A really good rule of thumb when you’re putting on a costume is A., don’t, costumes are weird, but B., if you’re going to do it anyways, don’t dress as a representative of a group of people to whom you do not belong. Al Jolson and Julianne Hough doing blackface come barreling to mind as cautionary tales. There are also smaller-scale examples: Those who dressed up as Native Americans for Bay to Breakers, the “race” that shuts down San Francisco once a year. Katy Perry combined elements of Japanese dress for a geisha-like outfit she wore to perform at last year’s American Music Awards, to collective outcry, and somehow in 2014 you can still buy a “Turban & Beard Instant Costume.”
So it both does and doesn’t come as a surprise that Ben Haggerty–stage name Macklemore–is on the receiving end of a fair amount of outrage over the costume he wore at a performance in Seattle on Friday night. Mister Macklemore is not new to the world of outrageous costumes, although they’re usually only outrageous in the sense of being eye-catching and sensational, involving unadvisable amounts of fur or epaulets. This particular costume, however, involved a large prosthetic nose, thick dark wig, and full beard. To many observers, it appeared that Macklemore was dressed as a Jewish man. He is not Jewish himself, although he has tweeted that he has “hella good Jewish homies” and blew a shofar last year to announce his performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Macklemore identifies with the “spiritual but not religious” worldview, although he prays and meditates and has talked about the illuminating effect of psilocybin mushrooms on his outlook.
There is a gallery of photos of Friday’s concert here, and you can decide for yourself what you think Macklemore was going for with this particular look. For his part, Macklemore denies any connection between his costume and an ethnic stereotype.
But plenty of others aren’t seeing what he’s seeing. Seth Rogen tweeted at Macklemore, “[F]irst you trick people into thinking you’re a rapper, now you trick them into thinking you’re Jewish?” The Daily Dot reported on several other reactions, including a tweet calling the costume “so racist that seeing it is like wafting smelling salts under your nose.”
If Macklemore genuinely couldn’t understand why some folks thought his costume was an offensive stereotype, then he is quite culturally illiterate. If, as seems more likely, he thought it was a harmless idea and is now claiming ignorance to cover his tracks, I would invite him to follow my costume rules as stated above for any future performances. And, in the meantime, own up to it and apologize.