I’m bringing this back to the forefront because apparently people on tumblr need another lesson as to why blackface is racist as all hell and why it is IN NO FUCKING WAY comparable to “whiteface”. I’m starting to lose fucking faith in humanity here. READ THIS WHOLE THING BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH TO SPEAK!
So, I saw this on my dash and the first line literally made me drop my phone and walk away. I’m going to try to explain this as calmly as possible because I want to believe the person that asked the question did not mean any harm.
For one, you can’t just paint your face, put on some stereotypical “ghetto” clothes and be black. For you paint yourself and “be black” for one day and just wash it off and go back to your privileged existence is very insulting. My skin color never goes away. No matter how many showers I take or how much soap I use, I will always be black.
I will always face discrimination based on my skin tone. By wearing blackface, white people can make fun of the stereotypical black person. I have to live that. Every time I go out with my son, I get the looks of disgust and pity. They don’t have to say anything, but I know exactly what they’re thinking.
“There’s another black single mother.”
“I wonder where the father is.”
“Does she know who the father is?”
“He’s probably in jail somewhere.”
“I wonder how many other kids she has.”
“She’s probably on welfare. She’s just abusing the system.”
Funnily enough, some of those things have been said to me. By painting your face black and pretending to be me, you belittle my experience. You make my existence as a black woman in America a joke.
Secondly, there’s the history of the practice itself. The practice of white men applying burnt cork their faces and pretending to be “black people” originated in the minstrel shows of the 1800’s. The practice became so ingrained in American culture that we still use terms originated in those shows today. For example:
- Jim Crow — This term originated in 1830. A white minstrel show performer Thomas “Daddy” Rice put on blackface and danced around on stage sing the song “Jumping Jim Crow”.
- Zip Coon — This character was first performed by George Dixon in 1834. It was meant to be a mockery of free blacks. He was arrogant, dressed in high style and spoke in puns that undermined his attempts to appear dignified.
- Coon — The characters Jim Crow and Zip Coon eventually merged into one stereotype and that’s where we get this term.
- Mammy — She’s the wise and very independent old black woman. You can still see her face on pancake boxes today.
- Uncle Tom — He was the good, religious and sober man. You can still see him on boxes of rice today.
- Buck — The big, menacing, proud black man who loves white women.
- Wench and/or Jezebel — She’s the temptress. In the minstrel era, she was played by a man in woman’s clothing.
- Mulatto — The mixed race male or female. They usually passed as white in the shows until it was revealed by another character that they had “negro” blood.
- Pickaninny — They were the children with unruly hair, red lips and wide mouths in which they usually had a slice of watermelon.
All of those stereotypes started in minstrel shows, carried over in to film and are most likely recognizable today. Blackface is not as simple as putting on a costume and having fun. It is a horrible act with a very painful past. The stereotypes started in the minstrel show era are the stereotypes that I have to fight against on a daily basis.
If you didn’t read all the way through this or don’t have the time, at the very least check out these links to see exactly why blackface is racist and harmful.
Seriously. Just google Blackface or type it into youtube. You’ll see in 5 minutes why black people hate it.
I really appreciate the way you have broken down the history of “blackface” performance and why it has been so damaging and why it is so offensive now. When I read about the Billy Crystal performance I was absolutely appalled that he thought that that would be perfectly acceptable. (On a side note: I don’t think “the Biebs” looked to good in participating in the skit either.) It’s not like this decision wasn’t reviewed. No one stopped and said “Hey this may not be such a good idea. At all.” Seriously?! No one? Sounds like they need more minorities working on the Oscars at the very least.
It seems one of the reasons that it was approved was Crystal had done the same bit in the late 80s on SNL. But you’d think we had grown in the past 30 years… apparently not. It’s sad really. Every time we think we have moved forward, we’re just knock right back down on our knees.
Even when I was an 8 year old child (the first time I ever saw anything about blackface, and it was in an old movie) I knew it was offensive, mean, and horrible.
How anyone can’t grasp that, or instantly understand it escapes me.