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Off the Ice: In defense of Raffi Torres

I can’t believe this controversy is still going on.

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.

Why?

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?