As everyone had probably heard at this point, during Halloween season, Maryland native Detrick Manning posted a photo on Facebook of College of Charleston student Sam Weinick dressed up as Freddie Gray at a party he attended. Freddie Gray was a black man who died of massive injuries from Baltimore police in 2015. The photo was taken on Snapchat, with the caption “ur going to jail tonight.”
Many students at the College did not hold back with their rage and comments towards this image as it made its way around social media. Student Bria Dantzler wrote an open letter to President McConnell (can be found in the November 2017 issue of the Yard) stating how many students felt about this image, and how the schools lack of consequences raged them even more. She stated, “This is not a matter of agreement or disagreement on a controversial topic, but rather one of values, morals, respect, and dignity. These actions should not be seen as conducive to the values that the College of Charleston aims to uphold and therefore should not be defended, nor allowed and subsequently reprimanded.”
Recently, College of Charleston alumni Bao Tram Le wrote an op-ed to the CisternYard News. In her op-ed, she stated that “We need to calm down and enjoy what’s around us because life is too short to always be offended. Rather than being repulsed by Halloween costumes and songs and imposing a social justice mentality on others, let’s learn to tolerate.” Her opinion was that Halloween costumes “are a way for people to express their creativity and humor in a harmless way.”
What I don’t understand is how could it be harmless when white students dress up as a black man who was brutally beaten to death? How is it harmless to Gray’s family? To the minorities at The College?
Bao Tram Le believes people who stand up against acts of racism “…are overbearing..” and their thoughts “…not well thought out…” Her argument is that as a society, we need to tolerate offensive Halloween costumes – but why should we tolerate a costume that promotes racism? To me, it is like saying we should just tolerate the Holocaust. We should just tolerate all the lives that were taken from people just for being Jewish, and not take what Hitler did so seriously. She writes, “How can we live a fulfilling, enjoyable life when we are always on a constant verge of an emotional breakdown after hearing someone say something offensive?”
Student Harlem Farr wrote in a comment to Bao Tram Le that, “Those who are not at a disadvantage in this society can easily dress up as their idea of a group of people, –which, in itself, is dehumanizing– laugh about it, mock it and portray a negative image of that group. By the end of the night, they can take the costume off and live another day without having a constant reminder of being a person in this society who endures systemic oppression and trauma every day.”
Cora Webbs, a senior at the College informed me that Bao Tram Le’s op-ed “was ridiculous and offensive.”
One thing that Bao Tram Le was right about was when she said that we live in a society where “creativity flourishes…” but when that creativity shows racism, how could we not take it offensively? In America, we’ve worked so hard to get to where we are today regarding racism. Even though racism is not like it used to be, it still affects our world dramatically. When we have white students dressing up as Gray, it is ignorant. It is ignorant and disrespectful to Gray’s family. It is ignorant and disrespectful to the African American community. As humans, how can we praise that we love and accept everyone when some people do something like this?
Tatjana Washington, a junior at The College, said something that really resonated with me. When I asked her how she felt about Bao Tram Le’s letter, she did not hesitate to tell me that, “Black people in today’s society are bashed and discriminated against on an everyday basis. Dressing up as Gray is just another example of white privilege at its finest. If the writer of this article is not black, then how does she have the right to tell black people how to feel? She doesn’t live the same reality that we do.”
We live in a world where racism will not end unless we as members in society stand together as a whole and fight against hateful acts such as this and command a change. We cannot sit back and disregard our feelings or “calm down.” We need to speak out. We need to understand our actions have consequences and not to only think about ourselves. If we all only think about ourselves, our world will never change. Be considerate, and use your voice. Every voice counts.