From hate crime statistics to Halloween, it’s been a busy and varied month at Changing Faces. But one thing has united many of the projects we’ve been working on: they’ve focused on how we relate to one another.
Take hate crime. Government published statistics showing a significant increase in hate crime, with disability hate crime rising by an alarming 24%.
Victoria Wright – a long-standing Changing Faces Champion – wrote a brilliant piece for The Guardian, recalling her own experience of hate crime on a bus. The response was positive and reassuring – but a few people, including some on our own social media channels, said that telling Victoria she was a ‘big chinned bitch’, however unpleasant, shouldn’t be illegal.
And then there’s Halloween. We’ve published a statement on our position on the annual scare-fest, and objected again to a supermarket selling a ‘fancy dress’ outfit which, as a result of its ‘burned face’, was ‘ideal for Halloween’.
We received several comments from our supporters on social media suggesting our objection was ‘political correctness gone mad’, whilst others said that challenging something ‘that’s supposed to be fun’ just damaged the good name of Changing Faces.
Heartfelt comments from other people talking about the pressure and discrimination they feel at Halloween, didn’t shift the position of those who felt we were pursuing a ‘politically correct’ doctrine and trying to spoil everyone’s fun.
Changing Faces supports thousands of people every year, and many of them tell us that the two annual occasions that they find most difficult are Halloween and Valentine’s Day. We want to put that right. Halloween has grown from an annual event focused on children to one celebrated by children and adults alike.
And we’re far from opposed to people having fun. But, as with our campaign against the stereotyping of people with disfigurements as villains in film and television, we just want people to have fun without causing offence.
Our social media channels have reached more than thirty million – yes, MILLION – people in the last twelve months, according to independent statistics. Through our social channels, we spread the message of face equality, demonstrating how it creates a fairer society for everyone.
And when people tell us we’ve got something wrong, we listen – but when people are also telling us we’re right, we have to find a balance. And in our Halloween statement, we believe we’ve found that balance.
After all, Halloween’s origins aren’t rooted in horror films or exposed bone and muscle, but in ghostly apparitions. Whether or not one believes in ghosts, few would object to ghostly and ghoulish costumes and themes, and they make a great theme for a Halloween party – without causing offence. There is simply no need to go anywhere near a costume, make up or theme that might cause offence.
Our Halloween statement gives some examples of costumes and themes that we would object to, to help people understand what’s acceptable. For example, is it okay to go out on Halloween night with realistic scars to the face?
No, because we know from people who have real scars that it’s offensive, mocking and intimidating. There was public outrage when a supermarket launched a ‘mental patient outfit’ costume for Halloween, and this is no different. Millions of people live with scars; to suggest they make someone scary or dangerous is fundamentally wrong.
And yes, that message IS about political correctness, because ‘being PC’ is about being polite, respecting difference, and trying not to cause offence. Whenever I’m accused of being ‘PC’, I take it as a compliment in the same way as when I’m told that I’m a ‘do-gooder’. What can possibly be wrong with being polite, or doing good?
Not all of our supporters will agree with everything we do, all of the time. But we’d hope that all of our supporters will agree with the majority of what we do. The face equality campaign has at its heart a desire to see everyone treated the same, irrespective of appearance.
And that’s why, at Halloween, every one of our supporters should be going out of their way to lead by example and avoid causing any offence to someone who might have a scar, mark or condition that affects their appearance.
We would all condemn the man who verbally abused Victoria on a bus. And so we must all – equally and unequivocally – condemn Halloween costumes that mock or mimic real disfigurements that people up and down the country live with day in, day out.
After all, political correctness is simply about how we relate and behave towards each other. This Halloween, let’s try and get it right.
Steve Taylor is PR & Communications Manager at Changing Faces
Viewpoint represents the author’s views, and not necessarily the views of Changing Faces.