Culture: October 2006 Archives

Halloween Costume Ethics

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Jason Sperber has some thoughts worth considering about when Halloween costumes are offensive and worth avoiding. Jason and I weren't close friends ourselves, but we had several friends in common during college, and we often sat at the same table in the dining hall. I don't think either one of us expected to have much if any contact with each other after we graduated, but I recently discovered that he's blogging in several locations, mostly in the context of race, and I found enough of it intriguing to add his blogs to my RSS reader. I've put up links some of the places he blogs in the sidebar, but I've been waiting for a post by him that I wanted to say something about so I could mention him in a post.

I think a lot of people who claim certain kinds of costumes to be offensive do an absolutely awful job of explaining why, and those who don't understand the reasons usually just write them off as being too over-sensitive. Sometimes maybe people can be over-sensitive and get offended at something they shouldn't. Other times maybe there is cause for offense, but it's not a grave enough concern to justify the kind of outrage you sometimes see, and besides there might be more productive ways to address such issues than complaining about one's rights being violated simply because one has been offended. Still, there are good reasons to avoid certain kinds of Halloween costumes, and Jason provides some good explanations (taken from tolerance.org) for why it might be bad to use a variety of different kinds of costumes. The reasons vary in kind and in degree of importance. I want to try to make the moral reasoning more explicit, since some of them go a little too quickly for my philosophically-trained ethical thought processes.

Richard Dawkins has announced that teaching children Christianity is worse than sexually molesting them. [hat tip: Blogwatch]

Update: Nick, commenting at the Evangelical Outpost mention of this, has the most pointed remark I've seen:

To me, the obvious answer is that molestation is a traumatic ordeal which cannot be compared to being raised Christian or to being raised atheist. After all, a child raised by atheist parents can still become Christian, and a child raised by Christian parents, even the strictest hellfire and brimstone fundamentalists, is free to embrace atheism as an adult.

I think that's the most important issue. Molestation cannot be undone, and its effects are as long-lasting as any that might come from being taught to fear hell (at least assuming there is no hell, as Dawkins is doing). On the other hand, all sorts of people are raised to believe in hell and yet reject it, and all sorts of people are raised not to believe in hell who yet become very committed Christians. You can change your views, and teaching views someone might consider harmful has not stopped people from abandoning those views later in life. No one is molested and then later becomes such that they have never been molested.

Devon Carbado at blackprof.com raises some interesting questions about race on the Grey's Anatomy show. [hat tip: Racialicious] I've never watched the show, but these issues come up with quite a number of shows that I have seen. Some people have called the show colorblind because it has non-white characters playing a prominent role without ever making an issue of their race. Many who say this are thinking of colorblindness as a good thing. Racial ways of thinking involve thinking of the less privileged races as lesser or as not part of the mainstream. This kind of colorblindness is often thought of as good. It mainstreams the marginalized. On the other hand, it does mask genuine racial issues when they might be lurking beneath the surface, unnoticed by those who aren't tuned into them, ignored due to no one's willingness to talk about them for fear of being seen as cooperating with the unfortunate implications of a good deal of the negative racialized thinking that colorblindness wants to avoid.

Carbado steps into this with a claim that I think shows some great insight.

I don't think the show is colorblind at all. It is color conscious in a particular way -- namely, it presents non-white actors in roles that do not explicitly invoke race. That is neither colorblind nor race neutral.

It didn't occur to me to call this approach color-conscious at all, but I think this is right. The producers of this show are surely aware of what they are doing. The writers may not be addressing race issues, but what is color-conscious is the placing of non-white actors into these parts, and I suspect they are consciously not referencing the characters' races very much.

It's clear that it's color-conscious in at least that way, then. The question is whether this is a good or bad thing to do. Carbado worries about one aspect of it:

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