When it actually happened- it being, when I was punched in the face by a black man for wearing what I was wearing for Halloween- is a bit of blur. The before part anyway. The after came into focus so sharply and so quickly, it took a while to process. That is until the blood came gushing out. The exchange before the guy punched me in the face was simple: he screamed something to the effect of my costume being racist, and I responded with the kind of shitty teen explanation that makes you wonder why doctors don’t devote all of science to discovering a cure for teenager. Here’s how it went down.
My second Halloween in college at UC Santa Barbara (rated the number one Halloween party in the country for several years by Playboy) I shellacked my hair with hair spray to give myself mall bangs, donned a plastic rosary, a fake pregnant belly and a Confederate flag t-shirt a friend had given me as a joke in high school. I was “White Trash.” Get it? Of course you do. It’s ironic racism, as portrayed by an 18-year-old, middle class, Jewish girl.
Before dressing myself in a signifier of the darkest time in our nation’s history, I did not consider how it might both offend and anger some of my peers. I was comfortable with it because it was “ironic”, which is ironic because I was not very comfortable with the definition of “irony.” That is what irony means, right? See, it’s complicated. Plus I was drunk and Alanis Morrissette doesn’t have a verse about Halloween or plantations.
None of the people I was with saw a problem with the costume either, and as we left the house, they dressed in their appropriate Army Girl and Lady Bug costumes, no one thought anything of my odd choice.
In fact, none of my friends even knew what had happened until I clammily said, “Um, I just got punched.” I took both hands away from my nose and people around me moved the fuck out of the way. There was blood all over my face, streaming down my mouth, and pooling in my hands. People, so many drunk people, moved listlessly out of the way as my friend Max put a protective arm around me, the bloodied Ironic Racist, and did his stumbling best to guide me out of the crowd. Another friend, Emily, dressed head to toe in a cow costume, ran wide circles around me alternating between very drunk tears and very drunk, maniacal laughter.
Eventually the bleeding stopped and was replaced by an eerie whistling sound. The whistling continued into the next day, along with some very minor bruising under my eyes. It didn’t break but it was sore and I was mortified.
Now, the question about whether or not I deserved it: No, I didn’t deserve to be punched in the face, but then again, it’s also not easy to explain why I was punched in the face without wincing. Let’s call it a push. But just to be sure, heed this warning tonight: Do not dress up like a Mexican in a sombrero carrying a bag of oranges. Don’t wear blackface for any reason, dress like a Native American even if you’re part of the Village People, or put on a Confederate flag t-shirt to dress White Trash. If you are white and worried something could be considered insensitive to somebody well, White Person, it probably is.