Fancy dress shouldn’t be a police matter
Three teenagers are being investigated by the police after they ‘blacked-up’ and attended a local parade dressed as golliwogs in Caithness, Scotland. There’s also a further investigation into another three, blacked-up people at the same parade, who dressed as the Jackson Five (which must have been tricky with three people, but whatever).
Now, what they all did was stupid. Whether or not you believe that golliwogs are inherently offensive, they have become synonymous with racism against black people. The same is true of wearing ‘blackface’, which has historical associations that go back to the minstrel shows of the nineteenth century. One of the most amazing things about this furore is that at no point did the blacked-up individuals think, ‘Huh, this might upset some people’.
But of course it did upset people. A whole lot of them. Most Scottish newspapers covered it, as did some of the nationals. On social media, the story generated so many hits you’d have thought they’d dressed as Kim Kardashian’s rear end or a gif of an irritated cat.
However, there’s a bigger, equally outrageous issue here beyond the shaming of a few teenagers. It isn’t that several people thought blacking-up was a great idea. No, what is really outrageous is that the police were called in.
Do these plonkers really need to be investigated by the police? Isn’t having their faces slathered all over every social-media platform and newspaper outlet in the country punishment enough?
The use of the police to try to limit what people wear should be troubling to anyone who wants to live in a free society. Like 99.9999 per cent of the UK, you probably don’t want to black-up. But unless you defend the right to do it, you’re allowing censorship to creep further into people’s lives. Using the law to try to regulate individuals’ dressing-up choices, from bikinis to blackfaces, stops people from making their own decisions about how best to live their lives – even if many think those decisions are unwise.
As Bill Maher would say: ‘Why can’t people hold two thoughts in their head at once?’ Yes, golliwogs are offensive. But using the police to try to impose a public dress code is also bad. Yes, the racist rants of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling or wrestler Hulk Hogan are shocking. But recording people’s private conversations without their knowledge, as happened with Sterling and Hogan, is shocking, too.
Unfortunately any freedom-respecting nuance gets lost in the fury of online commenting. People are so eager to condemn a bad thing, which can make them seem like a good person, that the deeper issues of free speech and liberty can go missing.
Still, we shouldn’t forget the most frightening part of this story: there are still people in Scotland so poorly educated that they believe the Jackson Five had three members.
Luke Terry is a spiked intern.