An Alta High School student who donned a white pillowcase during a school spirit event is learning a lesson about racism:
“Was he thinking about the Ku Klux Klan when he was at an assembly dressed to show school colors? No, he wasn’t. ... Is he thinking about it now? Yes, he is," his mother said in a Trib interview.
Is it a bad idea to wear a white pillowcase over your head in school? Yes, it is. Do I know this from personal experience? Boy, do I ever.
When I was 9 years old, I didn't know much about what was going on in the world, but I did know a bit about the solar system, comic books, ancient Greek mythology, TV game shows, and Edgar Allen Poe. I had a lot of narrow interests but few social skills. Basically, I was a weird kid -- definitely a geek, if not mildly autistic. (Some people might say not much has changed from then till now.)
That October, I decided for Halloween I would dress up as a ghost. (I always had a fascination with the supernatural, but to tell the truth, I was more attracted to the possibility of wearing a long, flowing outfit, so that I could spin around and watch it elegantly spread out, gownlike. The only time my family would let me get away with such queer behavior was on special occasions like Halloween, so I learned to make the most of them.)
Mom helped me put the costume together using a white sheet and a pillowcase. The sheet part was easy -- we simply cut a neckhole in the center, so that it draped beautifully over my shoulders and arms, hanging in exquisite folds to the floor. That was the ticket! I spun fagstatically throughout the house before my stepdad got a headache and ordered me back to the dining room.
Then it was time to figure out the pillowcase part.
Now, as everyone knows, all that is required to make a ghost head out of a pillowcase is to cut two round eyeholes. But, in practice, there are two ways to do this: 1. Cut the holes out so that the short edge of the pillowcase lies flat against the top of the head, or 2. Cut the holes so that a pointy corner sticks up.
Mom and I decided that Option 2 would not only yield a spookier effect, but that the pointy corner would resemble the trailing wisps of ectoplasm that appear atop the heads of the Ghostly Trio: Fatso, Fusso and Lazo, Casper's uncles from the Casper the Friendly Ghost comics. Cute, right?
What we didn't take into account is the fact that, earlier that year, the seminal ABC miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel about slavery and racism in the U.S., had electrified the nation, bringing renewed attention to something called the Ku Klux Klan -- the Kraziest Klan of Krackers anybody ever saw!
I was blissfully unaware of Roots and the KKK when I showed up to school Monday, Oct. 31, 1977, wearing my ghost costume. Just an innocent little queer 4th-grader Mormon boy in a hood and a dress, unprepared for the reaction that would come from my fellow students, who recognized it as a supremely racist symbol.
"What are you supposed to be?"
"I'm a ghost. Like the ones from Casper. You know?"
No, they didn't know.
"You look like someone from the Ku Klux Klan."
OK, I was willing to go with that, to save embarrassment. From the hostile looks I was getting, it seemed obvious to me that Casper was uncool. (This fatal sort of misinterpretation was typical for me, but as I say, I was lacking in social skills.)
"Uh, yeah, that's right -- I'm from the Ku Klux Klan." I didn't know what the Ku Klux Klan was, but (in my obliviousness) it certainly seemed like a popular idea among my classmates, particularly the racially diverse ones. They were always cooler than me, and obviously they knew which was the better costume, so for the rest of the day, that's how I explained myself. (I like to think I was more of a Martin Prince, but on this day, I was a definite Ralph Wiggum.)
That night, my older brother Darin and I went out trick-or-treating. We got a serious haul. We had at least three-fourths of a pillowcase each full of Pixy-Stix, fun-size Milky Ways, the awful, dreaded Bit-O-Honeys, and all the other Halloween treats of the era.
I must have been having some problem with my pretty-pretty gown, since I was trailing two or three houses behind Darin. "Come on! Hurry up!" he was complaining.
That was when I was attacked from behind. Somebody twisted my ghost-head around so the eye-holes were misaligned and I was totally blind. I was shoved to the ground, and my candy-stash pillowcase was torn from my hands. By the time Darin got there to help, the candy robbers were gone.
My big bro Darin would have kicked their asses if it hadn't been too late. So, the lesson I learned that night was: Stick close to my brother.
Also, never wear a costume that looks like a KKK outfit.
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