Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The University of Birmingham’s Guild of Students has banned a number of fancy dress costumes that it deems “offensive”, “insensitive” and “racist”. Students were refused entry after dressing in sombreros and ponchos, fictional characters such as Admiral General Aladeen from the film The Dictator, and the Native American member of the Village People. Vicki Harris, the Guild’s Vice President of Sport, defended the “zero-tolerance” policy:
After speaking with other officers, dressing up as Mexicans would not be okay since it could be seen as imitation of a culture and relate to a stereotype about the race of that particular ethnicity group, even if the intention is by no means harmful at all.
Firstly, far from being a mere ‘stereotype’, the Oxford Dictionary highlights that sombreros are “typically worn in Mexico and the south-western US”. With their wide brims and light weight, sombreros are ideal for those working in hot and sunny climates.
Secondly, almost every costume can be said to be an “imitation of a culture”. Witches are a common Hallowe’en costume, but they are derived from a dark period in human history, where free-thinking women were put on trial and executed in a perverse parody of justice. Wiccans may also feel that witch costumes put their religious practices back in the broom-closet.
Thirdly, the Guild has believed it necessary to expel students from its bar based on the prospective expectation of offense, rather than anyone actually being offended. The Guild says it has a “zero-tolerance” policy towards ‘offensive’ costumes, but it is plausible that no students were offended by these costumes.
Being offended is subjective, but a common human emotion. Experiencing a disagreement towards someone’s words, views, actions or dress should not endow another person with censorious power. Feelings of offense are not harmful, but ridiculous rules can be.