Hey Freshers! Here’s how to not dress like a racist

Because apparently you need to be told


When it comes to Freshers’ Week, or any other dressing up occasion for that matter, there are certain costumes that are obviously and completely beyond the pale.

If you find yourself adjusting your Swastika armband, untangling your gaudy Savile-style chains or affixing a makeshift bomb to your chest, then you’ve definitely pushed it too far. Aside from being universally offensive and completely unoriginal, you’re setting yourself up for three years of being known as “the guy that dressed as Hitler when we had a back-to-school night”.

But save for the few and fairly rare off-limits costumes, the general consensus is that most things are probably OK.

This is probably not OK

But because it’s 2016, and the world seems to have lost all discernible meaning, and people don’t need a tangible reason to be offended, the general consensus is no longer good enough. Living your life has become an impenetrable maze of ticking time bombs, every choice you make subject to cries of cultural appropriation.

The list of forbidden things grows longer day by day. There was a time when young people were outwardly looking, adventurous, pushing the boundaries, now we’re telling each other we can’t eat sushi because it’s “offensive”.

Leading the charge against freedom of expression is a self-censoring band of middle class, well-educated, usually white voices. They tell you that tea is a national disgrace, Yoga is racist and that under no circumstances should you wear a sombrero. They slowly take away anything distinct and interesting in the human experience. They can’t understand that causing offense is not the reason that 90 percent of the population get out of bed in the morning.

The most recent, blaring example of the anti-fun brigade really cracking down can be found, unsurprisingly, in the Guardian. Answering the question no-one was asking, ‘Freshers: Is your costume racist?” attempts to be a lifeline to clueless 18-year-olds who have no idea how the world works. Never mind the fact that they’ve got into some of the best unis in the world, they’re obviously too thick to work out for themselves that blacking up is probably a bad thing.

But thankfully, in a series named without a sniff of irony “Students in a postcolonial world”, The Guardian is here to help. Long story short, there are boundaries with what is acceptable fancy dress. They helpfully let you know for example that for a Mexican event, Sombreros are deeply, deeply problematic. But dressing up as Frida Kahlo is absolutely fine. Unless it’s a “garish parody… seeking to undermine rather than appreciate” in which case it’s back on the problematic spectrum.

After a thousand words and a factual innacuracy about the release date of the film Cool Runnings (1993), you’re left none the wiser about what you are allowed to actually wear. Like most things which are deemed offensive by someone, the distinctions are pretty arbitrary. When is the precise moment a Frida Kahlo costume becomes a garish parody? How does a sushi roll become so badly made that it causes offense? Where exactly do we cross over from multiculturalism to cultural appropriation?

I can’t answer these questions and chances are, neither can you. When the rules are always changing, the list of what you can do starts shrinking and shrinking, is it even worth trying to play catch up?

Should the freshers of 2016 bother trying to follow all the new rules of cultural appropriation? Should they only wear suburban school uniform or dress as St. George?  University is a place of self-exploration, preparation for the real world, and above all else, a rare chance at unrestricted fun. When you start worrying about pleasing people who can never be satisfied, you’re only setting yourself up to fail.

As long as you’d feel comfortable explaining to your primary school teacher why you’re dressed the way you are and looking your grandmother in the eyes as you explain why you’ve done your face paint like that, you’ll probably be alright.

Just don’t dress as Hitler.