Related Regrets

Over the holidays, the sister of a London police Constable posted photos on social media. They showed the officer – long before she was an officer – step by step as she dressed up in blackface, tribal-like beads and a colourful dress for Halloween 2006. At the time, she was a teenager who thought she was putting on a costume and didn’t understand the implications of her actions. Now she certainly does. 

The photos went locally viral, the officer immediately apologized without reservation, voluntarily signed up for cultural sensitivity training and didn’t try to excuse her behavior. London’s Police Chief issued an apology and listed the ways his officers and staff will submit to further sensitivity training. Londoners are split on their reaction. Many think the response is enough. Many want the officer fired.

I side with the faction that thinks she’s learned her lesson. And once you read my confession, you’ll understand why.

Two decades before Constable Aarts’ photos were taken, I dressed up for Halloween in a costume that would now appear incredibly racist. I have photographic evidence but I’m not going to post it because I will lose control of it, its context will change and it will never go away. My “crime” was to put on white, pancake make-up and apply thick eye-liner to make myself appear Asian. I donned a black bathrobe with pink and white flowers and ballet flats, and called myself a Geisha. I know. It’s awful, mortifying and I can assure you that little thought went into it. I had no intention of being racist. Truthfully, I wanted to wear something black because I was always concerned about looking fat. In recent years I had been a merry widow and a black cat. I, too, thought I was creating a “costume”. A couple of men at the same party put on feather head dresses and loincloths and “became” Indians. We were stupid, full stop.

We had no idea of the impact we may have had on anyone else. No one said a negative word about how we were dressed – ever. In fact, I was told I “looked great”. This is how it was. I’m ashamed of it and grateful that there was no social media back then.

However, had there been social media, perhaps I would have been more sophisticated. I would have been exposed to more voices, more people who would clue me in. Businesses buzz about silos; how parts of a company work in their own little worlds., disconnected from each other. We grew up in silos and were only exposed to what we physically encountered. There was no Internet or email. As our worlds expanded, we changed our ways. I was never a racist person. My momentary ignorance isn’t indicative of who I am.

As you can imagine, I sympathize with Constable Aarts because I did something awfully similar myself, probably at around the same age as she was. This is how we learn. Let’s give her an opportunity to show that she’s grown and now has a deeper understanding of cultural issues and depictions of racism, intended or not. I figured it out and I’m certain that she will, too.

3 thoughts on “Related Regrets”

  1. The retro-active application of todays socially accepted norms to the past is equally naive and misguided for you can’t re-write the past. Society evolves and to do so, we hopefully learn from our past mistakes to avoid making them today and in the future, however when your in the moment, you rarely can see the mistakes your making. Future generations will look back at todays socially acceptable norms and think how naive and foolish we are.

    As society and my awareness and sensitivity have evolved, I have learned from past mistakes, but I will not apologize for them, merely endeavor not to make the same mistakes again.

    1. That’s all well and good until someone posts your past behavior on social media and the hyenas tear at the carcass. People are losing their careers for less. And they’re being forced to say they’re sorry. It’s a whole different world once it’s in the hands of the masses and their public forums.

  2. They could post whatever in the hell they want, tossing stones in a glass house can be dangerous for it often has a boomerang effect. What’s that old saying, hindsight is 20/20 and under those circumstances, even I have perfect sight. We’ve become a society which is all about punishment and nothing about forgiveness and a second chance and truly pathetic.

    Now, there are some very legitimate grievances and complaints which have come to light, but there are others which I have to seriously question such as in your article. Society all to often over reacts in the early stages of change only to pull back eventually and find a more even balance. Unfortunately, to many suffer unnecessarily in the early stages of this transition.

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