Photo via Flickr
Some call it an ill-advised Halloween costume decision. Others may associate it with Virginia’s Democrat governor, Ralph Northam and certain photos of his from college. Or recently, many think of a pair of shoes made by Katy Perry. Princeton historian Rhae Lynn Barnes describes it to be “as American as the ruling class.”
Blackface has unfortunately reemerged as a trend within the past few weeks. With racial tensions higher than ever in Trump’s America, this ongoing problem is just feeding flames to the fire. Too many years have gone by where people have taken this underrated error in judgment as a joke coupled with a hearty laugh. There is no place for laughter and only place for action.
Before there is action, there is reflection. Why is blackface considered one of the ultimate mistakes? Well, blackface is traced back to the Elizabethan era, most notably from Shakespeare’s production of “Othello,” in which the title character dons blackface.
It wasn’t popularized in the United States until the civil war. With hostility against African Americans peaking at this time, white people decided to mock them in exaggerated portrayals of dark skin, painted with polish and tattered clothing. According to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History, these portrayals took the form of minstrel shows, in which black people were seen as “lazy, ignorant, and cowardly.” Most recognizable of the characters depicted was Jim Crow, who was created by Thomas Dartmouth Rice.
Not only are these depictions personally offensive to African Americans, but this was especially damaging to the goal of the abolishment of slavery. People saw this and began to associate the struggles they endured from slavery with entertainment. A cry for help was a cue for laughter and jokes. Their vernacular, their culture, their pain were all summarized in an hour-long show meant to raise the spirits of spectators.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam was raised in a culture where ideas like this were acceptable. If there’s anything Trump has done as president that has been indirectly progressive, it’s that he’s exposed some of the overwhelming amount of racism still present in the United States, much of which can be attributed to miseducation and ignorance of history.
A result of this exposure has been persistent speeches, protests and social media posts against the furthering of this racism. The America now condemns anything demeaning or offensive to the thousands of cultures present in our melting pot.
Before you claim that you are only dressing like a character who happens to be black for Halloween, think about the reason why people long ago painted their faces a different shade. Since the beginning, black people have been discriminated against for the color of their skin. They have been met with hostility and anger for looking different from 87 percent of the United States’ population.
With so much attention on their skin, they’ve earned the right to claim it. Black faces are for black people only. Leave your face alone and appreciate how different we all are.
In relation to the rest of the world, our America is diverse and accepting, but it needs to improve.