Updated Nov 2, 2011 - 11:18 am
Off the Ice: In defense of Raffi Torres
In case you missed it (which is unlikely), Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres and his wife, Gianna, went to the team's Halloween party dressed as celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce, semi-blackface included. To say that it sparked a controversy would be a huge understatement. The incident is getting talked about everywhere, from the LA Times to Yahoo! Sports and has earned the attention of local NAACP leader, Reverend Oscar Tillman.
Torres and his wife clearly didn't mean to offend anyone and - in my opinion - did a great job creating a costume that will be talked about (positively) for years to come. The Coyotes organization has gotten behind Torres and said there was nothing wrong with his costume. They're right.
This whole issue is people who are looking for an excuse to get irate finding that excuse. Good for them. They've done a decent job of it and exploited the numerous media outlets' coverage of the issue, including this one. But the problem is that their case holds absolutely no merit.
Blackface, as it was used in vaudevillian theatre, featured a white man whose face was covered in a dark substance to make them appear African-American and generally left a pronounced white mouth that seemed to encourage the character's clown-like actions. These actors generally portrayed black people as inept and mentally insufficient, using them for comedy relief. And yes, they also showed subservience to white people. Basically, they perpetuated a stereotype. I'm not defending what the actors did, as it was highly insulting, but that's the history of blackface. Take note, because this was not what Torres and his wife did.
When they donned their costumes on Sunday, I highly doubt Torres and his wife were out to make a mockery of African- Americans and many feel the same. But some feel that, no matter the intent, the costumes were still offensive and insensitive to African-Americans. Those people are wrong.
First off, what Torres and his wife did was so far removed from traditional blackface that anyone who got upset about the situation was looking for an excuse to get upset about something. I'm talking to you, Rev. Tillman, and others who think like yourself - those who just need something to be speaking out about. I appreciate the jobs people like you do and respect your position, because racial inequality is still very much alive in America, but this is not the issue to be making a stink over. There are much better things you could be spending your time on -- meaningful things -- not just a quick way to get your name in the media.
For those who feel the costumes were offensive, consider some of the other things you see on Halloween. At the Coyotes party, captain Shane Doan and rookie forward Andy Miele dressed as women. This also occurred regularly in theatre life prior to women's suffrage, when men played the roles of women. These roles were also highly offensive, yet still went on. I know the big argument is that African-Americans were once an enslaved people and that's the difference, but take a look at history. For centuries women were also viewed as a subservient people and some lived practically as slaves. They had few rights. They had to fight for their equality. Their situation wasn't as dire as most African-Americans, but don't discount their struggle. Now, with that in mind, how many of you have a problem with the players dressing as women?
Halloween has become a holiday that invites offensive costumes and, like it or not, that is now the humor behind it. How big of a laugh did you get when your buddy showed up to the annual party wearing a blanket, sombrero and a big fake moustache to resemble a stereotypical Mexican- American? What about the time someone showed up dressed in a tunic and turban to resemble the stereotypical Arab- American? Oh yeah, both of these are commercially-produced costumes available in almost any store.
The point I'm making is on Halloween there are hundreds of costumes to get offended about and start a big fuss over, but no one does. In fact, most costumes are based on easily identifiable stereotypes. Some of these are racially or sexually insensitive, yet everyone has a laugh, takes a picture and the party goes on. Torres may have put some extra effort in to his costume, but it was no different than any other costume that could be considered offensive.
His celebrity status obviously affected the situation, but that is not the issue at hand. The (non)issue here is that Halloween produces offensive costumes. You may not like it, but that has become part of the holiday. After all, isn't the whole point of the day to spook or shock people? By showing up to a party with a different skin tone, you're sure to shock a few people, get some laughs and a pat on the back for a costume well done.
If you're going to make a stink about a Halloween costume, don't target one specific person. You would have to change the entire atmosphere surrounding the holiday and complain about every insensitive costume. That is unlikely to happen, so why not relax, quit concerning yourself with Raffi Torres' costume and enjoy some candy and a scary movie instead?