Blackface: The Old Face of Racism

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With the Halloween season coming to an end, many people have come up with creative ways to dress up for the festive holiday. However, this does not come without its fair share of ignorance. Racially offensive and stereotypical depictions are a common controversy across the country, particularly at universities. I had the unfortunate experience of coming face to face with such a problem.

On September 24, multiple black students at Xavier University, my school, in Cincinnati, Ohio, came across this Snapchat photo of a white Xavier student wearing black paint on her face, with the caption “Who needs white when black lives matter”. The public outcry on campus was almost immediate. Black students, including myself, displayed our disgust for the actions of the people behind the picture. Unfortunately, this is something that is not exclusive to just my school. Just this past fall, Northern Kentucky University experienced their own form of racial discrimination, when flyers saying “Welcome White Week” were spread across campus. The flyers were in response to the Welcome Black Week flyers that were created by the university’s Black Student Union, in order to promote black student organizations to freshman students.

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The examples are many, but one underlying issue seems to be prevalent; this keeps happening over and over and over again. This is far from the first time a white student has publicly put on blackface. Just in the past month, a student from Albright University was suspended for posting herself in blackface on Snapchat. A white Prairie View A&M University (an HBCU) student left the university for doing the same thing. The issue has now gone far past just posting pictures, it now appears that the problem is embedded in the very fabric of white American society. In the early 1800s, the practice of using blackface in entertainment and film was commonplace. The use of blackface was, at the time, just one of the ways to portray black people in a condescending manner, and birthed many of the known stereotypes for black people. There was the mammy stereotype, that was frequently used in Aunt Jemima advertisements, the pickaninny, which portrayed black children as complete imbeciles who had an insatiable appetite for watermelon, and the mulatto, a biracial who was portrayed as tragic when they find they have black blood in them (which I take particular offense to, as I myself am mixed).

The primary, and most well known, use of blackface, however, was its use in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were a 19th-century form of traveling entertainment that was popular primarily in the United States. Their gimmick was that the white performers would cover their faces in black grease paint, leaving room around their mouths to simulate large lips. They would commonly portray themselves as ignorant, poorly educated (if educated at all) slaves. This alone should be enough to convince anyone, with at least a piece of a soul, that this isn’t funny, but what made these performances even worse is that people started to actually believe that this is how black people acted. Blackface then evolved into animation, with cartoon legends, such as Looney Toons and Disney, participating in it.

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Blackface, in a modern context, seems like an almost primitive form of racism, but that mentality has allowed it to permeate within college culture. “It’s not racist because it’s outdated” or “It’s just a joke, I didn’t mean to offend anyone” are not excuses. Blackface has been, and always will be, a white supremacist tool used to degrade and humiliate black people. The stereotypes it has created have created so much public division amongst black and white people, that the only way to even begin to bridge that gap, is to eliminate the use of blackface altogether and to better educate non-minorities on the history of it. So before you try to make a joke, please be aware. Black Twitter is watching, and we don’t play nice.



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