Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."
My friend is very creative and intelligent and lots of other nice things. This year she decided to dress up as Lana from the cartoon Archer for Halloween and she had a great costume. However, she topped off the costume by using fake tanner to darken her face and hands from white to noticeably less white, but still not really near black. I was drunk and (half jokingly) called her out for going in blackface but she brushed me off and reused the costume the next night. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
As Julianne Hough learned recently when she suggested to the world that burnt orange is the new black, blackface operates according to a one-drop rule. That is: if you take one drop of face darkening pigment and apply it to your skin so that you can portray a black person, you are wearing blackface. While it’s true that your friend isn’t literally applying black shoe polish to her hands and face in order to look black, you hopefully realize that the color black is not really the bad part of blackface. Nothing is inherently enraging about the color black; it’s actually one of the more popular colors because it matches everything. The bad thing about blackface is that it is a style of makeup application that historically was used to portray African Americans as imbeciles and buffoons.
So, when Derek Zoolander paints himself black from head to toe and jumps out of the shadows yelling "Surprise!" it is less offensive than when your friend paints herself tan and walks around introducing herself as Lana from Archer. That’s because Derek Zoolander is painting himself to look like the inside of a coal mine (remember Zoolander? Twelve years ago, damn) and your friend is painting herself to look like a black person.
It's true that Lana from Archer is a cartoon character, rather than a living, breathing black person. However, Archer is not a Doug-esque technicolor melanin is-Skeeter-black-if-he-is-blue representation of humanity. The characters on Archer are meant to represent realistic-looking people of skin tones that occur in nature. That’s how your friend knew Lana was black. And in fact, because she is a cartoon character, Lana from Archer wears pretty much the same thing in every episode. It’s not a hard costume to nail down.
If a person cannot tell who you are supposed to be dressed as without you painting your skin so that it resembles that of another race, that’s a sign that your Halloween costume sucks. Take a look at Miley Cyrus’ costume. If you are pop-culture savvy enough to know that she is wearing a replica of an outfit Lil Kim wore to the 1999 VMAs, you will look at that picture and think “Ha! (Or Jeez! or Damn, the VMAs are eternally popular!) Miley Cyrus is going as Lil Kim for Halloween.”
There is no one who will look at that picture at that picture as-is and think “What??? Huh??? Who???” who might have exclaimed “Lil Kim!” if only Miley Cyrus had dusted her body with a metric ton of bronzer. The most defining characteristic of Lil Kim at the VMAs isn’t that, on that night, she was a black woman. It’s that on that night, she wore a purple wig and an insane glittery jumpsuit, and her boob was hanging out. That is the part your costume should emphasize.
If your costume has to extend to your skin, you’re either dressing up as someone too obscure (“I’m an accountant, but a black accountant”), or your costume is missing some crucial elements; if you’re not dressed up like Michelle Obama in the first place, coloring your skin won’t help you.
As for the fact she's using self-tanner instead of pitch — when it comes to blackface, you don't get points for accuracy.
In conclusion, Archer is a fun show and I’m glad your friend watches it.
Last week while I was searching for a file on the server at my office, I stumbled upon a presentation that was created by my supervisor and shown to upper management. This presentation detailed my supervisor's thoughts about each member of my team, and contained a chart in which we were all points rating us from "Sucks" to "Awesome." All my interactions with my supervisor over the last year and a half have been very complimentary of my performance. Her comments in this presentation addressed things that I had never heard before and that directly contradicted the promises that have been made to keep me happy at my job. There were also some pretty belittling comments about my co-workers, which based on my observations and how highly people think of them in our office, seem to be untrue. I would at least bet that these "issues" haven't been addressed with them either. I am considering not letting my co-workers know of the file's existence. Is that okay?
While it was supremely unprofessional of your boss to leave this file on an unsecured server where any employee with a heart full of gold and a brain full of marshmallows could stumble upon it, I dare say your coworkers would not be shocked and hurt to learn their manager was assessing their performance and sharing that information with supervisors. That's how businesses operate. An office is not an intramural kickball team where everyone gets to play by virtue of showing up for the games.
While "sucks" and "awesome" make for indelicate shorthand (your supervisor does not sound like the brightest crayon in the knife shed), they're just terms used to sketch out a broad spectrum against which the group can be evaluated quickly and relatively. Even if the words had been "skilled" and "needs improvement," at the end of the day, they still would have meant "awesome" and "sucks."
If the file shows that what you've been told to keep you happy in your job was a direct lie: That sucks. You should start looking for a new job and seriously consider discreetly cluing your coworkers in to the fact that management is fucking them over.
If it shows that some people just don't have the talent or the inclination to earn "awesome" grades as employees: That's life. There are people in every office who are widely liked. Just because someone is super fun and popular doesn't mean they're good at their job. (By the same token, people who no one likes have a lot of time to get good at their jobs because no one is talking to them. NERDS.)
Maybe your boss has been positive and encouraging in your interactions in the hopes this tactic would help improve your job performance. If so, how fortunate you stumbled across this document outlining your boss' exact criticisms of you. Now when you alter your performance, it won't be because your boss complained, but because you just magically got better. You get to read the mean letter passed behind your back in study hall, and use it to your advantage.
If the file is an evaluation rather than actionable evidence of misdoing on your boss' part, what is the upside for you in sharing it? Becoming some sort of watercooler Julian Assange? A populist hero for the people who suck? If management don't think much of your performance now, that's not going to change once you've run around sowing unrest among your coworkers. If the fact they're keeping tabs bothers you enough, start looking for a new job while you can still get a decent reference from your current supervisor - it's not going to get better once you start leaking internal documents.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions (max: 200 words) here. Image via Archer/FX.