Monday, May 10, 2021

Blackface in White Minds.

February 10, 2019 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( A few months back, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was fired from her short stint at NBC ostensibly for asking on air, “What’s wrong with blackface?”  In truth, her firing probably had more to do with her humongous contract and abysmal ratings.  But she clearly didn’t think there was anything wrong with the practice.

Then came the debacle in Virginia.  Governor Ralph Northam, upon the release of a photograph on his medical school yearbook page of a person in blackface standing next to someone in Klan robes, offered his sincere apology.  He could not remember though, whether he was the one in blackface or dressed as the Klansman.  It was like, he had done both before and couldn’t remember which “costume” he had donned when this picture was taken.

The next day he did an abrupt about face and said it wasn’t him at all.  He did, however, remember a time when he “darkened his face” to perform Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in a dance contest, which he proudly said he won.  When asked if he could still moonwalk, he looked around to see if he had enough space to “bust a move” before his wife made him think better of it.  Well, I guess that cleared that up.

Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, loudly condemned the Governor’s yearbook page and promptly called on him to resign.  This was before he confessed that he too had worn blackface to a college party as homage to his favorite rapper, Kurtis Blow.  Mr. Blow was not pleased.  Awkward.

This has all been followed by a treasure trove – or better, open sewer – of blackface yearbook pictures from high schools and universities around the country.  Obviously, Ms. Kelly was not the only one who didn’t see anything wrong with engaging in the denigration of an entire people for their own amusement.  I, for one, am still baffled by how anybody could think blackface is attractive, amusing or appropriate.

And before we write this off as some anachronistic feature of “Southern culture”, what are we to make of the New Year’s Day Mummers Parade in my hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where “brigades” of men would march down Broad Street in blackface to the strains of minstrel song “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers”?  Their parade route through downtown would take them past the building housing the Union League, formed in 1862 as a “Patriotic Society” to support the Civil War policies of Abraham Lincoln.  And how can we account for foreign fashion houses like Prada that had to withdraw “sambo-like” trinkets and Gucci, which after complaints removed its “blackface turtleneck” sweater from stores?  What were they thinking?

We have never had a process in this country, like the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa, that caused us to confront the ugliest chapters in our history.  Instead, we pretend that monuments to white supremacy like Confederate statues and displays of the Confederate flag are somehow deference to “the lost cause.”  But who erects statues to the losers?  We just watched the Super Bowl and the losing team didn’t get a parade through the streets of Los Angeles.  No, something else is going on and we need to call those things what they are: symbols of racial oppression.

These recent events may bring us the closest yet to a time when we can fully address the truth about racist and racially insensitive symbols and images, and we need to use it.  Not to cast blame for past misdeeds, but to speak out for a future free of them.  The statues, the flags and all of that Confederate memorabilia need to be relegated to museums, if they must be displayed at all.  And the broader racist themes currently cropping up throughout the country need to be addressed head on.

This year marks 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to the Virginia colony.  In the midst of its current turmoil, perhaps Virginia can lead the way towards an America that gives truth to its founding creed that we are all created equal, as the Governor now says he will devote the remainder of his term in office to.  Let’s hold him to it.

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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