When is Black Face Acceptable?
Before we begin, I'm not some sensitive liberal or stanch conservative. I don't believe in, or pay any attention to those tropes. I like to form my own opinion based on my thoughts, beliefs and past experiences. And usually, I find myself split down the middle on most issues. I say this because I can already see the comments in the comment section. It seems that in today's environment "taking a side" on a conversational issue immediately places you in one of those two categories. So, for the next few paragraphs, let's try to say away from that. This is just personal opinion. Remember? The things we were allowed to have before social media?
Back to the original question. When is Blackface acceptable? The answer may surprise you!
That's right, it's never acceptable to wear blackface. Now, before you start thinking "people need to stop getting so offended about everything" let's take a look at what happened right here in Idaho.
On Halloween, four women showed up to work at P1FCU Credit Union in Lewiston wearing blackface. According to a company statement, the employees were meant to resemble the 1988 Olympic Jamaican bobsled team, made famous in the Disney movie "Cool Runnings."
Their costume choice was brought to national attention after a photo was apparently taken inside the credit union and posted to Facebook by one of the workers. The original photo has since been taken town, and Chris Loseth, P1PCU's president and CEO, wrote an apology for his team member's "cultural insensitivity." Loseth would not call it an overt act of racism.
"The women wore yellow stocking caps and green, yellow and black windbreakers, and what appeared to be black wigs. They posed alongside a cardboard bobsled with the word "Jamaica" on it in a picture taken on the Potlatch No. 1 Federal Credit Union premises that circulated widely on social media."
Why it matters:
I don't believe these woman are racist. I don't believe these woman meant to offend. I don't believe these woman thought that their "nod" to the Jamaican bob-sled team would go viral creating a nation-wide PR nightmare for their employers. I do believe they were ignorant to one simple fact. Wearing blackface is not acceptable.
It's totally acceptable to "embrace" or "nod" to your favorite black celebrity, rapper or athlete for Halloween but do it without distorting or reducing them to a character.
History of blackface:
Blackface was used as theatrical make-up by non-black performers to represent a black person. Historians can't place the first instance of blackface, however there are notes of this being a tradition as early as 1441 when whites would play black characters in theaters including Othello in 1604.
Historians tend to agree that early instances of blackface did not involve the caricature of putting down the black community during these early examples, but rather to play characters when select actors were hired for multiple roles.
The change is assumed to have happened in 1769 with a white blackface actor playing the role of "Mungo" an inebriated black man in a British play, The Padlock. The play and performance attracted notice, and other performers copied this style.
Well-known entertainers including, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Marion Davies, The Three Stooges, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Judie Garland and countless others all donned blackface in their roles.
These performances mocked the black community and promoted damaging stereotypes. There were characters including a coon which was a lazy man who made himself out to be more intelligent than he really was, a brute which was a savage criminal that loved raping white women, a mammy, an ugly, ignorant servant loyal to her white masters and pickaninnies who were poorly raised, unattended black children who were stupid and expendable.
For many, there is a lot of personal pain that they endured due to blackface characters. Many of the racial injustices today have the black community feeling like they're considered less intelligent, or "complainers" due to the hundreds of years these blackface characters trained other communities of what black people were like in real life.
What to Do:
Simply put, do NOT wear blackface. For those that don't know the history of blackface and the damage it's caused, it can seem like blackface is a way to dress up as one's favorite character - but there's a significant amount of pain behind this decision.
Rather than wear blackface, whether you're dressing up as the bobsled team, or your favorite Orange is the New Black character - think of the pain your costume choice is causing others. Then, don't do it.