SO, YOU DECIDED TO APPEAR AS CHARACTER FOR A HALLOWEEN PARTY. The character is Afro-American. You are a white person. So you decide to go blackface for a Halloween costume. At this point, I’ll have to ask you few questions:
Do you know what unfortunate implications your are telling? How and why do you figure you have to paint yourself in blackface to be a black character at all? Honestly, do you think my skin tone, is a prop? A costume? More importantly, a part of my character? Do you believe my character is worn on my skin? Do you think that skin and character are one in the same?
Maybe being a person of color makes me see this in a different way than you (assuming you are not). As a child growing up (I really don’t do costumes anymore), I was always pretending to be someone else. Spock, Mega Man, Donatello, Gambit, Guile, to name a few. All of these “characters” are people who do not in any way resemble me. Never once did it occur to me that I had to change my skin color to “be” them. The “look” is all in the props and action. Granted, as a kid playing in the middle of the street and in the woods behind my city block, a full costume wasn’t really necessary; Donatello only needed a tall stick with pizza on the side, and the city streets have claimed many decks of my father’s cards in the name of Gambit of X-Men fame.
These characters are still a part of me in a way; had I been a serious Halloween fellow one of these guys would be my costume. If I told you I was going to dress up like Elvis for the Halloween Costume Contest, do you think it would be a requirement for me to whiten my skin to pull off the look? Or do you think stuff like the signature hair, the signature jumpsuit, and signature hip swivels would be more important?
Cosplaying black folk don’t usually find it necessary to lighten their skin when they dress up as various fictional (or real) characters. So it is not necessary for white people to darken their skins to do the same thing. Of course you can do it, if you like to have your ignorance on display for the world to see, that is. But the point of dressing up is not to look exactly like your character of choice (and you never will). It’s to take on their essence. If people can’t guess who you are based on clothing, props, and behavior, you have no business trying to be that character. This is why I think simulating skin color is “gratuitous,” to say the least.
For example, I am of sound judgement and intelligence to understand that I don’t have to go into whiteface to be Spock in a Halloween party. The pointy ears, Star Trek suit, helmet-head wig and a stoic demeanor would get the point across. Gambit? A brown trench coat, the hair, and a deck of cards (or two) to show. Sure, sometimes color matters. Sometimes, the color of a character IS a part of them. Hulk? Green. Smurfette? Blue. But a white guy doesn’t have to put soot on his face to be Flava Flav; the giant clock necklace alone is enough. In the same manner that a black guy doesn’t have to go whiteface to be Superman; the red and blue tights with the ‘S’ on the chest and cape, is enough.
If you think you need to paint your face to capture the essence of a character, trust me when I tell you that you are perhaps not racist, but racially ignorant. Not a bigot, but a big dummy. So to the racially oblivious — human skin tones are not costumes. And that’s the bigger picture.