About 1 in 3 Americans — 34 percent — say that blackface is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable as part of a Halloween costume, according to a survey Pew Research released Monday.
The survey was done over a two-week period almost entirely before the blackface scandal involved Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was first reported. A slight majority — 53 percent of Americans — said they thought it was generally unacceptable for a white person to darken their skin with makeup to appear to be a different race for a Halloween costume, Pew reported.
Among those who do say that blackface can be acceptable at Halloween: 39 percent of white people hold this view, the study found, compared with 28 percent of Hispanic people and 19 percent of black people. About a quarter of white people under the age of 30 — 27 percent — say blackface is sometimes acceptable as a Halloween costume.
The survey also asked if it was acceptable to wear “traditional dress from a country or culture other than their own as part of a Halloween costume,” according to Pew — 58 percent of Americans said that was always or sometimes acceptable; about a quarter said it’s rarely or never acceptable.
The long and painful history of blackface has been thrust to the fore of the national political discussion after an image of Northam’s medical school yearbook page, featuring a man in blackface standing next to another man dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member, was published earlier this month. Northam first said he was in the photo, then later denied it, but said he did dress up in blackface as Michael Jackson around the same time.
Blackface dates to the era of minstrel shows in the early 1800s, in which white actors used shoe polish to blacken their faces to mimic and stereotype enslaved Africans, according to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
After Northam’s yearbook page was disclosed, the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring (D), acknowledged that he too had worn blackface, when he dressed as the rapper Kurtis Blow at a college party.
“That I have contributed to the pain Virginians have felt this week is the greatest shame I have ever felt,” Herring said in a written apology afterward.
Northam has so far resisted calls for his resignation.