If you don't know much about the kids show Yo Gabba Gabba then I'd recommend you do one thing right now: Google Image it. Quickly. Don't dare listen to any of the music or you'll find yourselves lost in a LaLa Land far from the reality of this blog.
The story unfolds like this....
My son was almost 3 and he was obsessed with Yo Gabba Gabba. I decided that we were going to continue, for our 3rd consecutive year, "The Family Halloween Costume." I am a bit obsessive about Halloween... as with anything involving costumes- it's kind of my thing. I'm the type to do weird stuff like start on costumes months in advance and enter us in huge family costume contests- obviously.
This year was no different. YGG was the perfect fit for us and Cormac quickly showed me who was the new Halloween Boss by choosing the characters for all 4 of us. He fooled me with a Plex request for himself, gave Birdie the honor of Foofa, gave me the [much less cute] girl character, Toodee- and Shawn, well... this is where our problem lies... he gave my husband his YGG hero- DJ Lance. One little bitty problem, I thought... DJ Lance is black. Shawn is see-through white.
Immediately and without hesitation I concluded, "Ok, no problem- I'll have to find brown face paint at the Halloween store... (mistake) and paint his face to match DJ Lance's (mistake) and have him wear brown knit gloves (again, mistake)." You see, as I have mentioned in previous posts... I am known for my creativity and attention to detail. I have, however, in no point in my life thus far, EVER been know for my knowledge of history. Or my common sense.
I had fitted the costumes to all of us a few days before the contest and they were coming along perfectly, exactly what I'd imagined. I had everything hung up and Shawn's brown face paint was right near his costume. I walked past it daily and my only thoughts were, "We're gonna nail it! We will look EXACTLY like YGG!" We had yet to win the contest and I just felt like this was OUR year, I mean, we definitely had authenticity going for us.
The next day I thought we looked SO good that we should go and have our pictures taken at JC Penney. I called and made the appointment. When I told Shawn to sit down so I could put on his makeup, I will admit he was a little confused, but I promised him it was fine and convinced him it was the only way he'd really look like DJ Lance- duh. A white guy would be a disgrace, at least I thought. He agreed... he usually gives into these arguments... as I tend to get a little perturbed if all my hard work, whether it be a party or a costume, isn't exactly perfect.
Now, had someone maybe mentioned to me that a white man should never be painted black, (like- everrr!) then maybe I would have gotten this idea out of my head long before I purchased those brown knit gloves... but no one did- in time to stop us from documenting it anyway... So I painted him up perfectly that nice day in late October. The kids were confused, for sure. Especially our 4 month old... but do you think I cared? No, we looked LE-GIT and I was so proud of us.
We hopped in the car and headed off for our family pictures. And in case you didn't know- family photos are when you see a mom at her finest: especially when she's paying for them. We might as well have been in jeans and white button ups- barefoot of course, with the beach as our backdrop. You see, I wanted these to be not only on our wall, but definitely our Christmas card. So we marched into JC Penney, announced we were there and got down to business.
I had candy bribes for Cormac's smiles which worked perfectly. I don't remember any weird looks from the workers (maybe a few chuckles). Mainly I just remember compliments on how great our costumes were- so again I thought, "Nailed it!" I loved the way the pictures turned out- perfection. Except for that one miiiiiinor detail.
Shawn was black.
It turns out this is crazy inappropriate and highly offensive to more than one race- more like, mainly the entire human race. Hmmm... this would have been good info... maybe I shouldn't have doodled so much in History class...
Shawn's good friends got into town the night of our photo sesh (note- the wife is the editor of this blog). They were visiting to spend the next day at the "Pismo Beach Pumpkins on the Pier Costume Contest" with us. We woke up early to get started "costuming" everyone because there was a lot of prep to be done between our two families. We had a family of 4 Yo Gabba Gabba and a family of 4 Alice in Wonderland. I mean, can you say intense?
I decided to get Shawn started on first- so, like the day before- I had him sit in our stool so I could work my magic. As I pulled out my makeup, Angie (our visitor) gave me a weird look. I couldn't decide if it was the look of, "Dang! She's got this contest in the bag!" or a look of total and utter bewilderment. As she walked closer to check out exactly what I was planning to do- she started saying things in a more serious tone than her average one, things like, "Whhaaaat are you doinnnng?" and "Whhyyyy?" and "Nooooo!" and, "Annnnndyy! Come here please!" (beckoning for her husband.) That's right, she was calling for back up. I couldn't understand all the hubbub- I mean, she had seen DJ Lance, right?
Enter Andy- a very calm, very smart engineer. "Oh dear. Not good. You cannot do that Kenna, not sure why you thought this was OK??"
Angie, his wife was simultaneously saying things to Shawn like, "Why would you let her do this?!" and "You should know better, Shawn!" At some points I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience- they were all talking like either I was either deaf, dumb or not in the room.
Shawn started making excuses like, "Kenna said I had to- it was the only way to be authentic!" Angie started saying things like, "Shawn- historically speaking, this is NOT OK no matter what she says!"
Ahhh, there it was again... History. I stood there clueless with my brown makeup in one hand, sponge in the other... and no face to paint because Shawn had gotten up and refused my services and was yelling things like, "I told you Kenna! I knew it was offensive, I should've listened to my gut!"
I couldn't understand why anyone would be offended that we wanted Shawn to literally BE DJ Lance, not just a white guy in an orange costume- I was going for Broadway here people- not Party City.
Next thing I know, Andy had YouTube pulled up and a bunch of very offensive white dudes painted black are dancing around. I was bummed on a few levels. Andy and Angie gave me a history lesson and I felt smarter and more in tune with America than I ever had. But my costume was ruined.
It was time to get going to Pismo, we were running late. I was so confused- who was Shawn going to BE now?! Angie assured me he could still be DJ Lance, and although I had a very hard time wrapping my head around it- I agreed. And while, to this day I blame our 3rd place win on the fact that I wasn't married to a black guy that Halloween day, people still seemed to recognize his costume and love it. Even the little kids would yell, "DJ Lance Rocks!" Go figure.
The day after the contest I went back to JC Penney. I told them we needed to take new pics. It was a hassle because I'd already paid and they couldn't understand why I wanted new photos since I'd seemed to love them the day before. In my explanation I started to cry, and very unexpectedly I blurted out through the sobs, "I didn't know I was being a racist- and none of you told me I was either!!" Waaaay to place the blame Kenna. I mean, there's something I never pictured I'd be yelling in public.
The manager had compassion on me and scheduled us for photos the next day, much more boring photos that didn't look nearly as good- but I guess, wouldn't offend anyone either (except maybe a costume designer).
And yes, we used them as our Christmas cards. People loved them and we received no hate mail. Amen.
I spoke very little of our Blackface misadventure in the months following. Looking back at this crazy incident, I hope it shows that if anything we loved DJ Lance so much that we wanted to emulate him 100%...AND that we, (being me) are totally clueless when it comes to knowing things most humans know.
I know this to be true... history was NOT on our side that Halloween 2010. Thank God we have smarter, more "in-tune" friends than us... because I don't think 1,000 people on a public pier is ever a good place to learn you are offending half of the population and are ineligible for the contest due to being crazy offensive, now is it?
Really Kenna... THIS seemed like a good idea to you?? Sometimes I even amaze myself...
It was fate our friends were visiting I tell you...
Let's try this again... shall we?