Being white, ignort, and privileged!
Some people are willfully ignorant or just plain stupid in perpetuating the smearing on blackface, or wearing white pointy hats. I find it truly sad our country is choosing to slide back it time, instead of putting our sights on the future.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
(George Santayana, 1863)
White celebrities, college students and even elected officials have made claims of ignorance over past and current controversies involving blackface.
Ignorance is no excuse
In modern discussion over blackface, its racist history is often swept under the rug or shrouded in claims of ignorance.
We must be educated about life … the good and the bad.
A Brief History of Blackface
It’s been nearly 200 years since white performers first started painting their faces black to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows across the United States. It was racist and offensive then, and it’s still racist and offensive today.
Among the recent controversies to erupt over blackface is a photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s personal page in his medical school yearbook. It depicts one person in blackface and another dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. After initially apologizing for appearing in the photo, the Democratic governor now says he is neither the person in blackface nor the person dressed as a Klansman.
However Northam’s case and others like it play out, it’s important for every American to understand what blackface is and why it’s so offensive.
Minstrel shows captures the story of American racism: It reduces individuals to racially defined stereotyped roles. Yet it also reveals the strange way white Americans yearn to see, and indeed idolize, black performers and black culture. Wearing blackface, a white person tries on a life he simultaneously disdains.
Minstrel performances demeaned black people. But they also allowed whites to admire translated forms of African American music and dance and, eventually, provided paths of economic empowerment for African Americans in blackface. Black performers were able to use the humiliating dialect, gestures and characteristics that they loathed to become stars. White audiences simultaneously sought to be endlessly reassured of their superiority to black people while demonstrating their fascination and even admiration of black culture. This touch point of contempt and desire is central to our history and still plays out today in the world of both sports and entertainment.
Legend has it that blackface minstrelsy began in the 1830s, when the white performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice borrowed the clothes and copied the dance of an elderly African American, creating the song and dance of Jump Jim Crow. According to the New York Tribune, “Never was there such an excitement in the musical or dramatic world; nothing was talked of, nothing written, and nothing dreamed of but ‘Jim Crow.’ ”
African Americans were excluded from the audience, but white spectators were excited by performances of white entertainers in blackface, as they simultaneously showed African Americans to be foolish, illiterate, superstitious — and more creative and artistic than musicians and dancers in the white world.
Black artists confronted directly the negative images that persisted in minstrelsy. In 1941, the famed jazz composer and pianist Duke Ellington created a new show and title song, “Jump for Joy,” in an effort to kill Uncle Tom and the tradition of Jump Jim Crow. “Fare thee well land of cotton/ Cotton lisle is out of style/ Honey chile/ Jump for joy,” he sang. Neither the song nor the show entirely ended blackface minstrelsy — the short film “Minstrel Days” celebrating the art form as all-American nostalgia came out the same year. But the modern sound of Ellington’s music was more in tune with a country about to go to war against ideas of white racial supremacy. The “happy darky” of the plantation South was indeed going “out of style.”