Blackface scandal doesn’t surprise people of color
Article By Corey Williams // Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — In the brightly lit Vintage Barbershop in northwest Detroit, Thomas Carter carefully trimmed the graying hair of a customer as he was asked about photos that depict whites wearing blackface.
He paused and slowly scanned the shop where about a half-dozen black men of various ages awaited their turn. “It’s not funny to me. It’s not funny to me at all,” he said.
From police shootings of black men, to white supremacy rallies, to efforts to remove Confederate Civil War monuments, the nation has lurched from one racial controversy to another in recent years. The latest is blackface — in which someone darkens their face and adds bright red lipstick to create stereotypes and caricatures. The disclosures have angered and frustrated many black people, who say it is mocking and demeaning.
The practice took hold in New York City in the 1830s and became immensely popular among post-Civil War whites. In fact, the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South took their name from a character played by blackface performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He said his act “Jump, Jim Crow” (or “Jumping Jim Crow”) was inspired by a slave he saw.
On the first day of Black History Month a week ago, a photo emerged from Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page that showed someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.
Northam at first admitted he was in the picture, then denied it a day later, but acknowledged he once blackened his face with shoe polish to imitate Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. The disclosure roiled Virginia politics and prompted widespread calls for Northam to resign . He has so far refused.
Days later, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring — who is second in line to succeed Northam if he resigns — admitted to wearing blackface to look like a rapper during a party when he was a 19-year-old at the University of Virginia in 1980.
The Virginia disclosures drew intense attention but are hardly unusual. Just in recent months, Florida’s Republican secretary of state resigned in disgrace after a 2005 photo showed him wearing blackface and dressing as a “Hurricane Katrina victim.”
Clothing label Gucci said it was pulling a blackface-themed sweater from stores. A Snapchat video shows two Connecticut high school students wearing what seems like blackface. A similar incident was reported last month at the University of Oklahoma, when a man walked around campus in blackface. An old photo has popped up of “The View” co-host Joy Behar wearing makeup to darken her skin for a Halloween costume in the 1970s.
Carter said white people wearing blackface is a painful reminder of America’s history of racism, hate and exploitation.
“It’s just a huge form of disrespect. I’m kind of upset with a lot of people allowing it to be done. It’s acceptable in a lot of circles, even with our own people,” he said.
Associated Press writer Alina Hartounian in Phoenix contributed to this report.