October 31, 2011
On Sunday night, the Phoenix Coyotes held their annual Halloween Party, and winger/Internet godsend Paul Bissonnette(notes) posted a few photos on his popular Twitter feed — including one of BizNasty as WWF legend "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, complete with 2x4 but without the old-man flab.
Wait … what?!
Yes indeed, Coyotes forward Raffi Torres attended this holiday soirée as Jiggaman, while his wife dressed up as Beyonce (complete with baby bump).
To the surprise of absolutely no one in 2011, Torres was immediately criticized and demonized for using "blackface" for comedic effect.
Bissonnette, catching the whiff of outrage, later tweeted:
As far as everyone trying to call "Racism" because Raffi dressed up like Jay-Z can simmer down. He's a huge Jay-Z fan.
(Incidentally, these guys were also huge fans of PK Subban.)
So Raffi Torres has 99 problems and having half the hockey world calling him a racist is one. Thomas Drance of Canucks Army writes:
Seriously people, don't do it, don't wear black-face on Halloween, or ever. It's stupid, it's ignorant, and it just doesn't fly. [...]
Even if Raffi's halloween costume bears little resemblance to the blackface of minstrel shows, the subject is too loaded to be a source of humour. It's off limits.
But before attacking Torres for this costume, understand a few things about him and about hockey players dressing as black men on Halloween. Because he isn't the first.
First off, despite looking so white as to be translucent during his career, Torres is actually the NHL's first player of Mexican and Peruvian descent.
He dealt with racial insensitivity while playing youth hockey in the Greater Toronto Area — his mother once being told that Raffi "should be selling tacos" and his father tackling another hockey parent because of taunts, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
This isn't meant to exonerate Torres from any racial insensitivity, but rather lend some context.
In 2009, they attended a Halloween party dressed as Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, with darkened skin for effect.
The offensive nature of "blackface" is rooted in its representation of a racist archetype. Clearly, the Blackhawks players were dressed and made up as real people rather than a stereotype manifested through exaggerated appearance. Other than the color of their skin, there's nothing stereotypical or embellished about their appearance as black men. It could be argued that their skin tone is as relevant as the jersey or fake tattoos.
Neither Burish nor Kane offered a public apology for the costumes. They shouldn't have, and neither should Torres.
Granted, there is a movement afoot to demonize costumes that deal with stereotypes. The Ohio University Group has an ad campaign this year dealing with costumes that focus on different cultures, like a Native American or an African-American rapper.
But again: It's a costume on Halloween. It's a character. It's Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" or Eddie Murphy going undercover as a white guy on SNL. It doesn't matter if Torres was doing this for a laugh or as a tribute -- there's nothing patently offensive about this image. (In fact, let's be honest: This was probably her idea. Couples costumes usually are.) The only racial insensitivity here is on the part of the critics.
But what do I know? I'm a pudgy white guy from the Jersey suburbs. Who, incidentally, is dressing like a Japanese ninja for Halloween. No photos, please.