Raffi Torres Messes Up

Thomas Drance
October 30 2011 10:15PM

Well it looks like Paul Bissonette's usually flawless twitter usage has finally got one of his teammates into trouble. That teammate: former Canucks forward Raffi Torres, who I personally loved as a Canuck. Raffi, however, made the idiotic mistake of doing blackface on Halloween, when he dressed as Jay-Z and his wife dressed as a pregnant Beyonce Knowles. 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.

Now I think it's probable that Raffi Torres, a ginger whose father hails from Mexico City, doesn't have a racist bone in his body. But blackface has a particular, bigoted history that makes its usage beyond the pale in polite society. 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. Of course, the realm of professional hockey players rarely qualifies as "polite society," and this is not the first blackface/halloween costume/NHL player controversy in the last few years.

I'm talking of course about Patrick Kane and Adam Burish back in 2009. Patrick Kane of course dressed up as Scottie Pippen, while Adam Burish dressed up as Rodman:

In the case of Patrick Kane and Adam Burish, their costume was outed by Ernest Wilkins a RedEye intern who tweeted out the photos and later wrote, "It's interesting being a Black (feel free to sub in Latino/Woman/actual Penguin at your will) hockey fan sometimes. We don't see a lot of players that look like us, and we want more people out there to look up to on the ice. Stuff like this doesn't help." Amen.

Wilkins was, predictably, criticized for tweeting out the photo because he "focussed on Kane" rather than on Kane and Burish together because, "of course... only one of those guys is a star." Solid homer reporting from Chicago Now's Mike Kiley on that one

Biznasty has since taken to twitter to defend his teammate saying "Raffi is a huge Jay-Z fan" as if that has anything to do with the issue. He also RT'd a photo of Dwayne Wade in white face as a way of rhetorically asking "what's the difference between the two?" Let's just say that Bissonette is digging himself in deeper on this one. It doesn't matter if Raffi is a Jay-Z fan, it's the invoked tradition of blackface that is offensive here. And that's also why the Dwayne Wade comparison falls flat: it's the sordid history Raffi's costume references that is at issue here.

Here's the point to me: blackface halloween costumes are racist at worst, and woefully ignorant at best. They're in indefensible poor taste and any smart person knows it. There's context here though, hockey players and the world they inhabit isn't always enlightened. Just based on Bissonette's usually excellent twitter account you can infer some borderline medieval attitudes towards topics like in-game toughness, and women. Up until tonight I wouldn't have included "ethnic minorities"(*) on that list, but the fact that one of the most "with-it" NHLers wasn't wise to the shit-storm that would ensue when he tweeted out a photo of a teammate in blackface is baffling, revealing and sad. 

(*) I'm informed that the UN considers the term "ethnic minorities" to be racist.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#51 Walt
October 31 2011, 12:12PM
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Thomas, I'm looking for your thoughts on Dwayne Wade dressing up as Justin Timberlake in 'white face.'

Wait, I don't see it... Shocking.

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#52 felix
October 31 2011, 12:15PM
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Thomas Drance wrote:

@JD thanks for chiming in man. I'm unsurprised that the concept of nuance escapes you. Good luck dealing with the complex issues life throws at you.

ahhahaha cute !

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#53 JD13
October 31 2011, 12:16PM
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@Ty No Ty...He's not racist...and he's not SAYING Torres is racists, only that he's acting like one and that all of us are racist in our beliefs if we don't have a problem with his Halloween costume...lol. The whole "story" is a non-issue. Did anyone call Al Sharpton over this yet? Jessie Jackson? Anyone ask Jay-Z if he's offended? Is it ok for Dave Chappelle to do a white guy skit? I don't read it to that anymore than I read into this. What's racist about a guy portraying a celebrity? Was he holding a slice of watermelon? Ribs? Wings? Perpetuating any stereotypes? Not based on the picture posted. Looked like a pretty good costume to me, like he put some work into it. It's irresponsible and tiring actually that folks toss out the race card at the slightest suggestion (in their head anyway) that something is "wrong" to them. But in this day and age when the race card is tossed out more than ever, it's no surprise that crusaders jump on "stories" like this.

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#54 Don Cherry Jr.
October 31 2011, 12:22PM
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Now I understand fully why hockey has turned into arena ballet. Canadians have grown way too soft intellectually. It's odd too because most of the hockey players seem like down-to-Earth reasonable guys with a sense of humor and the only people ever offended are the media and "bloggers".

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#56 Patrick Johnston
October 31 2011, 12:25PM
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Big J wrote:

Great post.

For those so eager to defend blackface: I challenge you to put on this Jay Z costume, go to a Halloween party full of black people you've never met before and explain to them why it's not racist.

It's easy to defend casual racism to a bunch of white people on the internet. Try justifying it to the people it's offensive to.

Big J's nailed it. If you can't do *that*, then there's a problem. Think you could do it? Go ahead and try it, pretty safe to say there's going to be at least a few people who won't be happy with you.

Very doubtful Raffi did this to be racist, but that doesn't excuse ignorance of the history of putting on black makeup.

The point about white face is a straw man - there's no history of black people dressing up as white people for reasons we now acknowledge as offensive. Blackface was once used in ways we now acknowledge as being deeply offensive. We want to believe that we can equate one with the other, but that suggests we live in world of absolutes, of one or the other. We don't. Some things are unacceptable, while some things that aren't but are very similar acts. It may seem silly, but that's how it is.

We may wish that this wasn't an issue, but for many, many people it still is. That's enough for me to say, 'you know what, maybe a different costume is a better idea.' We want to believe we live in a post-racial time, but we're not there, yet.

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#58 RC
October 31 2011, 12:26PM
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dumbest non-story i've seen in a while. who cares, it's halloween!! raffi has no reason to apologize, nor should he.

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#59 mike
October 31 2011, 12:27PM
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You are a IDIOT!!!!For posting STUPID comments about someone dressing up on Halloween...Get a life man....SNL does it all the time....No line was crossed other than your remarks!!!

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#60 Greg
October 31 2011, 12:29PM
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@Kohma

This is one the most clear headed, concise and eloquent responses to an accusation of racism that I've ever read. I feel like people jump on the racism bandwagon every time somebody does something to offend a minority. But I agree with you wholeheartedly. It's a costume. Nothing more. The fact that he and his wife dressed up as a specific person should be taken as a compliment, if anything. Equal treatment should be just that, equal. Exceptions shouldn't be made. Was blackface bad news in the 20's when Al Jolson made it popular to the masses? Yes. But that was almost a century ago. It's time to stop living in the past and get real. Dressing up as a redneck white guy can be offensive, but do people care? Not a bit.

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#62 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 12:41PM
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Right, whiteface is totally the same because it echoes a practice in which enslaved white people were mocked by their black oppressors. Oh, wait, that didn't happen? Will this make one whit of difference to the people who are howling about "reverse racism?" Highly unlikely.

Look: just because the guy wasn't running around singing Mammy doesn't mean what he was doing wasn't stupid and broadly offensive.

This isn't some "sympathy for the struggling black man" piece. It's a "hey, fellow white people, quit doing dumbass things like this" piece. Stick to your guns, Drance, you're right on this one.

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#63 JD13
October 31 2011, 12:44PM
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@Big J

Really? No history of Blacks dressing up as whites? Eddie Murphy? Dave Chappelle? Um...Richard Pryor?

@Drance What is the whole purpose of the article? And sorry, there is a HUGE difference between black face and what Torres, or Downey Jr did. And what are you implying by saying The realm of professional hockey players rarely qualifies as "polite society"? I would say as a whole, in terms of "professional" athletes, hockey players are probably the most down to earth, approachable, and reasonable of all pro athletes. Are you going to use this as an example of their "bad" behavior?

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#64 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 12:45PM
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Next time you want a shitstorm in the comments, do let me write a guest post about why the Canucks will get cheerleaders over my dead season ticket holder's body, and other things teams do that alienate women hockey fans. :)

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#65 greg
October 31 2011, 12:46PM
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@eastvanhalen

The guy didn't do anything wrong! What's the deal with people thinking so? When Dave Chappelle does white face and acts like a stereotypical suburban white man, nobody cares. Everybody, white folks included laugh. Black face was used, WAS used, a long time ago to make fun of black people. It's not anymore. This guy was being someone he likes. Nothing more. And if people like you eastvanhalen, are so put off by one person's opinion like Biz, you've got some work to do on yourself. Everybody makes fun of everybody else. Deal with it. There's always going to be racism and sexism,it's the sad truth. But bringing them up in every little thing is ridiculous. It's part of the reason it still exists.

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#67 JD13
October 31 2011, 12:54PM
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@eastvanhalen Just what about the costume is offensive? Please, tell us? That a white (well in this case, hispanic) had the nerve to dress like a black entertainer? That in itself is offensive to you? NOT THE SAME AS BLACK FACE no matter how much you want to believe it so. And really, I don't need someone speaking for me, especially when what was done wasn't racist in any way, shape or form. Yeah, let's draw a line between everyone different. Attitudes like that where no one is "allowed" to cross any line because of race does nothing but keep everyone separated. No one laughs anymore at the risk of being politically incorrect. Lighten up (no pun intended there), and seriously, get over yourself. And again eastvanhalen, Torres isn't "technically" white, so he has a pass here...lol. It's only the totally white folk that aren't allowed to do it.

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#68 Jim
October 31 2011, 12:54PM
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@Thomas: Why is it ignorant and stupid? What is Torres being ignorant and stupid of? Is Jay-Z not actually a black man? How else would you envision a costume of Jay-Z looking?

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#70 Jim
October 31 2011, 12:59PM
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We'll have to agree to disagree on your interpretation of it as reflective of a bigoted tradition. The fact that you feel that way contributes more to the problem than the costume itself, IMO.

You said you are a blogger reacting to a controversy, but this is only a controversy because you seem to want it to be. Think about that.

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#71 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 12:59PM
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@greg: Nobody should care about what Chappelle does. Different histories, different experiences, different meanings. And the "history" of blackface is not as remote as you think.

Meanwhile: if I don't feel like reading Bissonette because I am tired of his dumbass sexism, I don't need to "do work on myself". I get to read lots of things by people I disagree with all the time, but that doesn't mean I have some sort of obligation to read sexist twitter feeds for recreation.

No, bringing up racism and sexism doesn't make them continue to exist. Defensive white people and dudes who are wholly invested in braying to the world that they aren't racist or sexist sure do plenty to keep those things around, though.

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#72 Mantastic
October 31 2011, 12:59PM
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Raffi Torres's agent is african american, he doesn't find the costume offensive at all.

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#73 CatHunter
October 31 2011, 12:59PM
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Thomas, You're a stupid f*ck, and no one gives a sh*t what you think.

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#74 JD13
October 31 2011, 01:02PM
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But it's not even controversial until you start comparing it to blackface, which in this case it obviously wasn't. It's pretty obvious that you're trying to make this racist even though you go out of your way to say Torres isn't. Blogging is OPINIONS, plain and simple. It's your opinion that it was stupid, that alone doesn't make it fact, or wrong. The whole point of the story has racial overtones, period. If not, why compare it to blackface and associate it with racism? Why post it at all? Not everything whitey does is racist.

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#76 Greg
October 31 2011, 01:06PM
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@Thomas Drance

I recognize that you were not calling it racism, you were focused on the implications this costume has given the racist background of blackface. Still though, you were calling him ignorant because of the costume, and I respectfully disagree with you. He wasn't doing anything to be deregatory towards another group of people, he didn't even dress up in real blackface. I feel that people who get so offended by something like this need to take a look at themselves. Although racism still exists, we've come a long way since the 20's and 30's when blackface was popular. Constantly crying foul because something is sensitive to a group of people is ridiculous, and does for the advancement those same people seek.

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#78 Greg
October 31 2011, 01:13PM
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I wasn't saying you should read things that piss you off just for the sake of reading things that piss you off. I was stating that if one man's opinion and sexist comments make you feel that an entire gender have a "ways to go" as you stated earlier, then you should reevaluate things. It's one man's opinion. And yes, finding racist and sexist undertones in everything that might offend keep it alive and well. He dressed up as a black dude that he admires. Well known blogger blogs about it. Hundreds of people find this thread and comment. It pisses everybody off in one way, shape or form, that might not have even known about it had it not been pushed into the spotlight. All I'm saying is that it's obnoxious and redundant to keep bringing up the past when something offends. Remember it for sure, but stop bringing so much uneeded attention to it.

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#79 TheGhost
October 31 2011, 01:14PM
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I went out of my way to tell you if you think this is racist, you my friend are the most ignorant person in the story. How you have a job is beyond me!

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#81 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 01:16PM
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@JD13: Why would you think I'm speaking for you? I'm speaking in support of folks who find this offensive and stupid. You're not one of those people.

I have not said that it's blackface-qua-blackface, so please stop putting words into my mouth.

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#82 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 01:19PM
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It isn't just "one man's comments", greg -- it's the fact that they aren't challenged and actually are broadly approved of. It's not isolated.

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#83 JD13
October 31 2011, 01:20PM
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It certainly suggest racism by the mere fact of posting it. You go out of your way to say Torres "probably" isn't racist, but insinuating that the costume is racist based on the tradition of blackface. They're not even the same, but by comparing the two, you make this a racist issue when it's nowhere near. Now Ted Danson (Sam Malone on Cheers from years ago) was out of line when he did ACTUAL "black face" at a roast with Whoopi Goldberg, who was his girlfriend at the time. That I would say was in poor taste. This, not so much.

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#84 Greg
October 31 2011, 01:23PM
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@Thomas Drance

I'm using your story as an example. Will this single post push this story into National News? Certainly not. Rather I was stating that articles can push stories like this out of hiding and into the public light. That being said, I really enjoyed the debate. Cheers.

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#85 greg
October 31 2011, 01:26PM
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I'm just of the opinion that you shouldn't let other's viewpoints bother you. Everybody always has something to say, and that will always be the case. But until everybody stops making derogatory comments about everybody else, we really have nothing to complain about.

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#87 James
October 31 2011, 01:38PM
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Please, everyone is just looking for an excuse to call someone racist or be offended. He dressed as Jay-Z, he dressed as a black person. WHO CARES. find something else to worry about and stop letting EVERYTHING offend you.

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#88 JD13
October 31 2011, 01:41PM
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@eastvanhalen It's a "hey, fellow white people, quit doing dumbass things like this" piece.

Sounds like a white guilt apology like statement to me. There's nothing "fellow white people" are doing wrong in this case. And not sure, but seems like you are doing just that, comparing this to blackface. OMG, a white guy dresses like a black guy, let's all hold our breath and look over at the black folk and see if they laugh or not. Oh, no, so embarassed by my "fellow white folk" doing something so dastardly as dressing as a black celebrity, Let me look over at the black folk in the room and roll my eyes at the stupid white guy...so tired of that whole walking on egg shells white guilt attitude. Nothing perpetuates racism than barking at every little sound in the night.

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#89 Poopoo
October 31 2011, 01:45PM
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Teh face is fine. How is it any worse than a pre mae costume face?

He did not exaggerate any features in astereotypical way.

To ay Wade's actions are diferent is a cop out.

If you don't like the fact blackface was used as a device to make fun of blacks, why would you justify the use of whiteface to make fun of whites?

WHat? Wade wasn't amking fun of him? Guess what, this guy wasn't poking fun at anyone either.

As well, he isn't wearing black face,That poibnt has already been covered.

What about the movie White Chicks? Lots of fun making thee. White Men can'tjump./ Sounds stereotypical to me.

White Face is used to make fun of white people often. therefore, you can't be justifying its use if you get upset at this stuff.

I guess we have to ban all dark colored make up in order to appease the hypocritical pc police, now.

You really need to learn the history behind true blackface, as well as, understand what racisin is.

Just because I do something that you believe a racist person would do, does not mean my actions are racist. The intent is important.

People use oven cleaner to get high, that doesn't mean we should ban oven cleaner. Just because people use his makeup to be racist does not mea we should ban it or that all use of it is wrong.

You can't have it both ways and your Wade justification is a poor cop out.

You are just another liberal pudding fed, hypocrite.

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#90 Dave
October 31 2011, 02:16PM
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@Thomas Drance

...shut the comments down along with your career. I was joe dirt, did I offend the South or white trash....the way you look at it yes.

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#91 Skoal187
October 31 2011, 02:23PM
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Hey jack off Thomas Drance. So what do you think of Dwyane Wade dressing up as Justin Timberlake "white face" for halloween?

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#92 eastvanhalen
October 31 2011, 02:35PM
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@JD13: White guilt? No. Nor am I embarrassed, nor am I walking on eggshells. I'm not playing at compassion or somehow claiming that I'm immune to racism or, conversely, wallowing in the fact that I'm not immune to racism.

You continue to impute motives and feelings to me without any basis for doing so. Cut it out, please.

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#93 jdinvan
October 31 2011, 02:54PM
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I think if Raffi had dressed up as a "blackface" character from 1850, that might be offensive. There is no possible way anyone could mistake his costume for being that.

Blackface entertainers are now judged to be shameful, but it isn't the black makeup that make them shameful and offensive (I hope that's obvious)

To get offended by black makeup that doesn't resemble "blackface" just illustrates a failure to understand what is to be embarrassed and offended about when it comes to blackface entertainers and their ugly history. In other words its an ignorant opinion. Which is kind of ironic I guess!

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#94 Nutterz
October 31 2011, 03:11PM
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I find this entire article to be foolish and forceful. I saw this costume before reading anything and did not think it was racist at all. In fact, I actually remembered the Chipelle clip and laughed. Point is, he is not doing anything that fulfills a stereotype to be considered racist. He is dressed up as a CELEBRITY. Dwight Howard was a white man before, no problem. And the argument "dress like that and go into a room full of black guys and see" is too funny. If your not comfortable dressing as something, then don't do it!! Celebrity or not, black or white. This was a horrible article, pushing on racist in itself. Stick to hockey.

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#95 James F
October 31 2011, 03:19PM
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So much for my idea for dressing like a coal miner for Halloween. Apparently darkening my face is considered offensive just because some jerkoffs did it many decades ago to promote stereotypes.

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#96 Maximillian
October 31 2011, 03:37PM
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To the people decrying the use of "blackface" (Drance et al): Do you understand what blackface is? Do you understand why it is offensive?

Blackface is a theatrical makeup style that is designed to comically embellish stereotypical features of black people, as perceived by white people. As Canucks fans, I'd expect you all to know about embellishing #BoomRoasted

But seriously, blackface is offensive because of the character that it is being used to portray. Makeup designed to give someone the appearance of having darker skin and "blackface" are two different things. Blackface is not just the makeup, it's the entire act and the intentions of the actor.

You should be offended at a person who dons blackface not because of the makeup, but because of the intent of the actor and the personality that he bestows upon the character he is portraying.

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#98 Cranky Old Person
October 31 2011, 04:11PM
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The issue isn't whether Torres is racist or not. It is that he showed bad judgement. There are many examples of bad costume choices - just think of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi officer costume. Bad optics - bad choice - bad judgement. This is the same....

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#99 CharlieB
October 31 2011, 04:16PM
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Wow, just wow. I signed up to this site for the sole purpose of commenting on this article after seeing PTI. What a bunch of BS. This is not black face. If he wants to depict Jay-Z accurately for Halloween, he needs some make-up to look black. Big deal. You've successfully created an issue out of nothing to show your superior political correctness. Bravo. Soon, we're not going to be able to say or do anything without offending a minority group (who probably wouldn't be offended until somebody writes an article about it). And it's not the "bottom half of the internet" that disagrees. Apparently Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser didn't see the racism in it. Get off your high horse and back to reality.

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#100 Sam
October 31 2011, 04:43PM
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@Thomas Drance

I read a few arguments and comments as well as the main blog. I would have to say that it's people like you that breed racism. Obviously you are voicing your opinion of an athlete, but then again what does your opinion matter? You think it's ok for one race to do one thing, and when another race does the same thing it's wrong. That makes you ignorant and stupid.

Your sole argument is that it resembles minstrel shows? This was how long ago? It's 2011 we have a black President in the US. Not to mention the fact that Raffi is of Hispanic decent makes your argument even less credible. Regardless of what anyone says you will look at them as having little class unless they agree with you. You're a blogger and in the end you want any type of feedback regardless of if it is good or bad.

Bottom line is that Raffi dressed up for Halloween the one day of the year you can be anything you want. And in my opinion I would think Jay-z would be flattered as he did a pretty good job with the costume.

As for you I will never follow your blog as I was able to respond here via a link.

GO SHARKS!!!

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