I refuse to believe that young people in America don’t know that blackface is offensive. In an age when racial interconnectivity is as open as its ever been, I’m not buying that every time someone has a party where people show up with painted faces, that those people don’t know what they’re doing.
The examples are just too prevalent. Recently, reports surfaced of students in Waverly, N.Y., performing a skit during a pep rally that featured students in crude blackface, reenacting a 2009 incident
in which Chris Brown was accused of beating up his then girlfriend Rihanna. Yes, you read that correctly. Not only did these kids break out racist costumes for their little number, the number was specifically “satirizing” violence against women. Doubly offensive.
While I am sickened by the reenactment of domestic violence, my concern is different when it comes to the blackface part of the incident. Sure, the decision is in very poor taste, but frankly, I’m not really offended. In fact, there are plenty of instances when shows have featured the stunt: Howard Stern very famously appeared on Petey Greene’s show in blackface, an event that some people say catapulted Stern’s path to stardom. At this stage of my life, if I see someone dressed in blackface, I’m more likely to scold them for being an idiot than a racist. The racism is obvious. The decision to go through with that act is more troubling. I fear that too many people are caught up in worrying about whether or not kids, families and communities understand this as wrong, as opposed to trying to understand why folks think it’s funny.
The ironic thing is, the biggest offenders of this sort of behavior these days are, in fact, black.
Turn on your television and look at the reality shows. Turn on the radio and listen to the lyrics of hip-hop and R & B songs. Heck, go to church and see what comes out of some folks’ mouths. As much as I shake my head at a group of misguided kids painting their faces in upstate New York, part of me is glad that’s all some people think it takes to make fun of us. Truth is, it doesn’t even take that much work.
Why should I be mad at white folks for blackface skits when we can be the biggest minstrels? Maybe we should look at how we present ourselves as critically as we do others who pantomime us. That doesn’t give them a pass, but let’s be real about what really matters.
That’s not to say that I don’t understand the historical antecedents. Back when it was in fashion, it was part of an overall systematic culture of keeping black people out of performing jobs and undermining us as a people.
What people laughed at were gross perversions of their own insecurities and discriminatory beliefs about people who looked different from them.
Again, the notion of making fun of domestic abuse by the young people in New York is what’s really disturbing. But my days of getting fired up every time some clown who happens to be white shows up in blackface are over.
There are just as many people out here representing us poorly without their faces painted, so I’m not going to spend much more time worrying about those faking it.
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