This week, a controversy erupted over a local show in Portland, OR. It all stemmed from the promotional artwork meant to look like a Black Friday sale advertisement:
The ad features several racial stereotypes about black culture: cocoa butter, oversized basketball jerseys, grills, and so on. Understandably, local racial justice activists were upset by this poster and began contacting the venue, who initially issued a patronizing dismissal of the concerns. The event was eventually cancelled and the venue issued a deep apology.
Interestingly, the uproar created a different controversy altogether: many debates were taking place about whether or not the flyer itself was actually racist. Some took the side of the venue’s original stance: the day was literally “Black Friday” and that the flyer just contained items relevant to hip-hop, not necessarily black culture or black Americans. They thought that the venue, promoter, and non-black DJ should be given the benefit of the doubt – after all, there was no racist intent behind the event. It should be noted that those individuals were all white.
More than anything else, the initial response to defend the event (as opposed to members of a traditionally marginalized group), was a textbook example or privilege. Those people are dismissing the opinions of the community itself. White privilege is being able to tell other groups whether something is racist or not. Look at these massive debates concerning Ferguson: the people who are saying it is not about race tend to be those in a position of privilege and who have no experience concerning the actual communities under attack.
Whether it is intentionally racist or not, appropriating another culture and perpetuating racist stereotypes is still racism. In the wake of the Ferguson events, it’s even more distasteful to not only use these racial stereotypes, but to say that the offended parties should “lighten up,” that it’s “just a party.”
For those who believe in the power of free speech, that individuals should be able to say/promote their events however they’d like, I completely agree. But I also believe that we have the right to call out acts of racism and voice that complaint if we don’t like it as well.