It might be faster to list the racist stereotypes that weren’t present in these photos from an off-campus costume party held at a Canadian college that surfaced last week. The attendees were certainly thorough.
Photos of the party near the campus of Ontario’s Queen’s University were circulated by Canadian comedian Celeste Yim, who found them in a public Facebook gallery that has since been deleted. The photos show teams of white students dressing up in insulting stereotypical depictions of different ethnic and national groups. The students have not been publicly identified.
While some of the racist tropes were instantly recognizable—such as the picture of the group wearing orange prison jumpsuits and sombreros—others were more bizarre. The group wearing conical hats and holding toy machine guns have been described in coverage as being “Viet Cong fighters,” but the costume could just as easily be “militant coneheads.”
University Principal Daniel Woolf released a statement condemning the event and promising to investigate whether or not the school’s code of conduct was violated. The school’s student government, the Alma Mater Society, also condemned the event and stated they planned to hold a forum to discuss campus race and racism soon.
In a column for The Globe and Mail explaining why she posted the photos, Lim said that despite the outrage over the party, she received several messages writing off the event as “harmless” and accusing her of being “overly-sensitive.”
The photos from the party do not represent a harmless social event. They represent the power that the majority has (and has always had) to decide how non-white people are represented, which greatly affects how it is they are treated.
The racist implications of inappropriate costumes are not a matter of opinion. It doesn’t matter the intention, a lapse in judgment, or if everyone has one black friend, a Muslim friend, and an Asian friend too. These things have no bearing on what racist photos represent.
One of those outlets brushing off the party was actually The Globe and Mail itself, whose columnist Gary Mason wrote in a separate piece that “sometimes a person dressed as a Buddhist monk at a costume party is just someone dressed up as a Buddhist monk at a costume party – and not a racist jerk.”
He declined to describe what a person dressed in a sombrero and prison jumpsuit is.