“It was an earlier time”


The most recent scandal to emerge out of Virginia is that a number of politicians were hanging around, or were dressed up themselves, with students in blackface or KKK robes.

When asked by CBS 6 to look through old MCV medical school yearbooks, VCU student journalist Caitlin Morris found several racist images from the 1980s showing students in blackface.

“It’s not that surprising that people would be culturally insensitive,” said Morris. “We are still facing racism and systematic racism today.”

On top of those, an image from a 1980 University of Richmond yearbook shows several students in KKK costumes and a black student with a noose around his neck.

Blackface photos and racial slurs were also found in the 1968 VMI yearbook. Senate Majority leader Tommy Norment served as the managing editor of that yearbook.

So now one question is whether they deserve any kind of censure now, 30 or 40 years after the fact. Sure, this was openly racist crap, but hey, 1) it was an earlier time, that was the zeitgeist, you can’t blame the kids for going with the flow, and 2) it was so long ago that they’ve outgrown those attitudes and are now committed to egalitarianism, so don’t hold the person’s past against them, ask what they’re doing now.

I thought I’d address point 1 by looking at my own history of yearbooks. We have our own little collection of ancient yearbooks from the early 1970s at the Kent Junior High Vandals and the Kent-Meridian High School, the Royals. I skimmed through them this morning, reminiscing. Keep in mind that this was the Pacific Northwest, not any place in Dixie.

The results: between 1970 and 1975, there were no yearbook photos of anyone in blackface. No KKK robes. No swastikas. No confederate flags. These were signed yearbooks, and no one scribbled abusive comments anywhere — there were a couple of mentions of Beer Bottle Beach, which was the sandy spot along the Green River where students might hang out of an evening sampling illicit beverages, but that was about it.

I did notice how white the students were — the Pacific Northwest has its own racist problems, which were usually expressed in deeply segregated communities, and this was a suburb of Seattle. I knew very few black students. There were lots of students of Japanese descent, and we had our own unsavory history there. The parents of many of them could tell you about internment camps. None of that was demonstrated in the yearbooks (which is another, subtler problem of the implicit silence of racism).

You know, it was entirely possible for kids in that era to be innocent and completely unaware of the very idea of using racist ideas to disparage others. I don’t know what has been going on in Virginia or other Southern states, but it seems to me that part of the blame has to rest on an openly racist culture that allowed such behavior to flourish. Kids were echoing what their peers and parents were doing, which doesn’t excuse it, but it does say that it isn’t enough to condemn just the individuals — there ought to be some broader soul-searching.

As for point 2, well, you’d think the first line of defense these guys would have is to point to their records. None of them are doing that! Show me that your career has involved opposing racist policies, that you’ve been trying to change the racist culture that encouraged you to fail so hard in your youth. Instead, we’ve got Northam making pathetic excuses for inexcusable behavior, hiring a PR firm, and talking about leaving the Democratic party, and the nominally liberal party of Virginia in shambles.

In summary, we should kill the myth that blackface and other racist behaviors were ubiquitous 30+ years ago. That is not a valid excuse.

Could such behavior be redeemed by a more recent history of change? I think so. All of us did stupid things in our youth, and the first step is to admit that they were wrong, and the second step is to show a record of behavior that belies the impression given by those old photos. It’s troubling that the governor of Virginia hasn’t even tried either of those things, but seems committed to his rationalization that blackface and the KKK costume were simply innocent mistakes.

If he can’t do that, he should resign.


P.S. I also did find my wife-to-be in the books. Here she is in 1970. She’s going to kill me for posting that hair-do. But come on, she was, and is, cute.

And here she is in 1974.

Comments

  1. waydude says

    Yeah, when this came out, I thought that it would be “yes this was stupid and racist behavior, I was young and stupid and it was wrong. I didn’t understand it at the time but I have grown up and understand that now and my record of seeking to abolish inequalities in the system speaks to that”. I mean, even if you didn’t feel that way, you would think someone around these people would step in and say ‘look handle it like this…” Instead we are getting a response worthy… of a republican. Ugh. Probably LIKES BEER and WORKOUTS with SQUEE

  2. rpjohnston says

    Yeah getting up in a presser and acting like a child who’s been caught by his parents doing something he knew he wasn’t supposed to do, but not understanding why he wasn’t supposed to do it and that it’s unfair he’s being punished, wasn’t a good look.

    At least Herring proactively admitted what he did. Even if he did read the writing on the wall that’s a league of understanding better than Northam.

    Right now though the leadership has to make sure the governorship remains in Democratic hands somehow because if Republicans succeed in their coup and get Cox to govern a unified government (that they only have thanks to a corrupt judge), we’re all fucking doomed.

  3. rpjohnston says

    (Last sentence: We had a Delegates election where the Democrat one by one vote, so a Republican judge let a spoiled ballot be counted for the the Republican, bringing it to a tie, which ran off to a coin flip, which the Republican won, giving them a 51-49 lead in the House, so they chose the Speaker, who would become Governor if the top 3 Dems go down. This whole thing was kicked off when a right-wing hack site published Northam’s photos in retaliation for his support of a bill easing abortion restrictions.

    This is why I call it a coup. Because it is.)

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Why cut any of them any slack? After all, when considering the option of wearing blackface, these young persons evidently failed to exercise the Number One Virginia Rule for White Persons by asking themselves, “What would Robert E. Lee do?”

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    …and talking about leaving the Democratic party, and the nominally liberal party of Virginia in shambles.

    Mainstream Dems: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! You see what all your crazy radical talk about racial justice has done?! Now the Republicans will put someone will just flat out admit they dressed in racist outfits into office rather than a Democrat who’ll make ham-fisted excuses and denials! Once again, you let the perfect become the enemy of the good!”

  6. hemidactylus says

    Here’s an interesting article that calls out a growing list of famous people who have potentially crossed a line:

    “Virginia isn’t a one-off. Here’s a (growing) list of celebs and lawmakers who got in trouble over blackface”
    https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/07/us/celebrities-in-blackface-list-trnd/index.html

    I noticed Gene Wilder in Silver Streak. Not sure if that was excusable especially in retrospect, but Billy Crystal in some SNL segments has me puzzled. He was portraying a specific person, arguably very well, and not intending racism or generalized portrayal of a group as a whole based on stereotype. But doing it recently in 2012 caused a stir:

    https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/billy-crystal-oscar-blackface-sammy-davis-jr-296219

    At least less objectionable than most of the others on the list. What the hell was Danson thinking?

    I have a picture of myself from high school age in tiger stripe combat fatigues and black beret with face darkened in an intentional camouflage pattern of greens, browns, and perhaps black too. I was in ROTC. Hunters don face camo all the time. If anything the youthful militaristic indoctrination was objectionable. And it probably didn’t help my acne any, though I only had a minor issue with that.

  7. says

    If Northam came out and said it was a maga-headed thing to do, even way back then, it wouldn’t have been so bad. Robert Byrd was in the actual Klan and had a long career with the support of black Americans because he was unambivalent in his denunciation of his time in the hate group and the work he put in making up for it. But no, Northam not only gave a weak apology, but immediately turned around and said it wasn’t him in the photo and he didn’t know how it got there but there was another time he did black face that may not have been so egregious. That then led to him almost demonstrating his moonwalk until his wife stopped him – a very funny moment but the cherry on top of this whole career-killing sundae of making things worse for himself.

    It also helped demonstrate how the right doesn’t operate in good faith. Almost immediately they started asking why the left wasn’t denouncing Northam but when it came clear they were, they whiplashed into asking if a career should end because of a youthful indiscretion (if I could access Twitter from work, I’d bring up the perfect example of this).

  8. wsierichs says

    If you look at the 1970 Hopewell. Va., High School yearbook (when I graduated), roughly a quarter to a third of the students were black. These were my classmates from the 10th to the 12th grades. Hopewell is a few miles down river from Richmond, near Petersburg. Very much a part of the Old South.

    Other parts of Va. were very racist then and long after (some places probably still are). But the times were changing by 1967, so excuses about “that’s just the way it was” in the 1980s ring hollow to me.

    I’d write more, but I’m recovering from a health problem, so this is a drive-by comment. Maybe more tomorrow if I’m up to it.

  9. Saad says

    Tabby, #9

    Yeah, that tells you for him it wasn’t exactly an “earlier time”. He probably doesn’t wanna piss his racist buddies off by completely distancing himself from it.

    Meanwhile across the aisle:

    “I’d like to run for office. By the way, I would watch a lynching, LOL.”

    “Start Monday.”

  10. microraptor says

    I’d like to see someone dig up the yearbooks of the Republican lawmakers who are calling for Northam’s resignation. Let’s go over their histories and see what we find. Republicans wouldn’t dare to be so hypocritical as to try and make excuses for something like that, right? /s

  11. whywhywhy says

    The whole point of ‘Black Face’ in the 1980’s was the fact it was transgressive and ‘naughty’. I am of the opinion that if the perps can’t admit to that fact (at least in retrospect) then they need to leave office.

    The resignations could be done in a way to insure Dems keep control of the governorship. Nixon and Agnew both resigned and Republicans were able to insure a Republican became President.

  12. hemidactylus says

    @11- starfleetdude

    Still not entirely sure about Wilder, but his blackface moment may be ameliorated by context. At least that CNN list reminds me of a Sesame Street verse modified, some of these cases are not like the others…in being either/or instead of a gradient. Blackface has a unforgivably horrible history. Most if not all cases of white people portraying black people are going to be wrong or at least unwise. There is intent, effect, and social mores. In the case of Billy Crystal the intent seemed to be genuine admiration for his character and apparently Davis didn’t mind. But that was decades ago.

    So Crystal doing an impersonation of Sammy Davis Jr. doesn’t seem comparable to idiot kids donning blackface for photos or Halloween costumes or anything with racist intent. The effect of Crystal’s impression may have been more benign in the 80s. But social mores have changed for the better (the expanding circle Pinker* borrows from Singer) and people are more critical about racial portrayals so Crystal doing Sammy Davis Jr in the present day would have benign intent but negative effect and would thus be unwise. How many people in his audience by proportion would know his repertoire or who Sammy Davis Jr was? Lacking context he looks to be some white guy stereotyping black men for comic effect. Hard to nuance that.

    And OTOH it may have always been wrong for Crystal to do Davis thus universalizing the taboo. But his case seems less worse than historic minstrel stuff or the present day focus on blackface revelations at least by degree if not kind.

    He didn’t portray a Katrina victim. Big difference there! https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2019/01/24/new-secretary-state-ertel-dressed-blackface-halloween-2005/2649161002/

    – in the back of my mind is this not quite applicable quote from Pinker: “As we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.” *Enlightenment Now

  13. mikehuben says

    “In summary, we should kill the myth that blackface and other racist behaviors were ubiquitous 30+ years ago. That is not a valid excuse.”

    A sample size of one from the Pacific Northwest hardly says anything about the ubiquity of blackface in popular or elite white culture in 80’s Virginia. Oh, and that’s disregarding the other yearbook photos found by CBS 6. By that same standard are you going to declare Confederate monuments and street names are not ubiquitous in the South because they were not in your hometown, when we’ve all seen them when traveling in the South?

    “Show me that your career has involved opposing racist policies, that you’ve been trying to change the racist culture that encouraged you to fail so hard in your youth.”

    I certainly agree with that.

  14. starfleetdude says

    Still not entirely sure about Wilder, but his blackface moment may be ameliorated by context.

    Thanks to the magic of the intertubes you can judge for yourself about that scene:

    It was an earlier time…

  15. hemidactylus says

    @18- starfleetdude

    A bit cringe inducing perhaps more as situated in the present. But notice Pryor’s character after offering critique upon white folk seems perturbed by his Frankenstein creation. A relevant line upon witnessing his creation’s over the top and very stereotypical routine is that he might make it past the cops but not the (presumably black) Muslims, which signals to me an awareness that the characterization is potentially offensive to someone even then. Or maybe it was just a punching up dig at the awkwardness of white people in adapting to black contexts.

  16. nomdeplume says

    “It was an earlier time” sounds like “I was drunk” as an excuse. Being drunk doesn’t make you do things that are not in tour character to do. Nor does racist behaviour by those around you.

  17. starfleetdude says

    @20 – hemidactylus

    It’s obvious that Wilder’s character is an object of ridicule in how he’s utterly incapable of acting “black”. Pryor’s line about it fooling the police but not the Muslims (who were black, like Muhammed Ali) is hilarious in that context, both then and now.

  18. says

    nomdeplume:

    I was watching a Betty Boop cartoon with my friend Mike, SASSY CATS. At one point, a whole line of clone-like black cats are dunking their tails in bottles of milk, and the cat behind each is sucking the milk out of each tail, and it looks pornographic as hell. I gave him a helpless look, and he deadpanned, “It was a simpler, more natural time.”

    This became a standard phrase for our circle whenever something in a cartoon or old movie went somewhere that nobody today would dream of doing outside the realm of purposeful lampooning. We used it for horrific racial stereotypes more than anything.

    When I saw the phrase used for a title, that was the sense I immediately perceived it as. It takes a conscious effort for me to recognize it as a sort of exoneration or amelioration, but I guess that is how most of those who use it see it.

    (This in turn reminds me of the series of fake newsreels “Dr. Science” would boot up at least once per half-hour episode, back in the run of the series: “Our Ignorant Past.” They’d generally choose footage that would likely have evoked the ironic version of the expression, even had they not been accompanied by narration that purported to make them illustrations of important science facts, like thermodynamics illustrated by frenetic marathon dancers who, we are told, are molecules.)

  19. mikehuben says

    nomdeplume @21:
    “Being drunk doesn’t make you do things that are not in tour character to do. Nor does racist behaviour by those around you.”

    Ah, the “in your character” argument: arguably as vicious as racism itself. Tell me, is your character genetic? Is it the same lifelong? Is it formed irrespective of your environment? Is everything you do always “in your character”?

    My father was a Hitler Youth. Was that “in his character”? After that, he fought for the USA for two years in WWII, winning several medals. Would you predict that from what was “in his character”? Could he have been affected by the racist behavior around him? As I knew him, he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.

    Character (a very sloppy term) changes. I’ve changed (hopefully for the better.) Hell, many of the people writing here started out religious and then changed: is religion “in their character”?

  20. wcorvi says

    So, there are evidently TWO types of yearbooks, those that are overtly racist, and, from PZ:

    “None of that was demonstrated in the yearbooks (which is another, subtler problem of the implicit silence of racism).”

    Those that were NOT overtly racist – but guilty anyway!

    One can’t even break even!

  21. hemidactylus says

    I just recently watched the pilot for MASH and came to a shocking realization about the series that disturbed me. Given my age I came to self-realization and ability to comprehend the series well into its run. I preferred Black Sheep Squadron. Pretty sure bionic people were even more important to me at the time!!!!

    I was under the impression that MASH was a bastion of liberal values and an anachronistic bash against the Vietnam War. Then just within the past couple days I learned the nickname of a black character from the first season and wondered given my affinity for Alda et al how that shit could be justified regardless of time period. Fuck!!!!

  22. says

    I never saw early Saturday Night Live, so I had no idea Billy Crystal did a blackface take on Sammy Davis Jr. On the other hand Joe Flaherty’s SCTV character Sammy Maudlin was also based on Davis Jr. He had a short lived talk show that began just before SCTV first aired, where Davis was overly flattering of his guests. But the only visual connection to Davis in Flaherty’s portrayal is Maudlin’s afro style hairdo. Even with that hairdo the typical viewer who had never seen Davis Jr’s show would have no idea the character was based on a famous African American.

  23. says

    As part of an apology, I want to hear an acknowledgement by those who did blackface of what the harm is. I want to know they understand whats wrong with it. Far roo many wyte ppl do not understand the problem of blackface (or yellow-, red-, and brown- face).

  24. says

    The “it was an earlier time” excuse ignores all the POC that didnt like wyte ppl painting themselves as other races. But treating us like we are invisible is one in a seeming infinite number of pasttimes wyte ppl collectively seem to enjoy.

  25. says

    hemidactylus@27 the character in question appeared in the original MASH novel, and the subsequent movie. He was dropped after 6 episodes of the series, although having a name some viewers would find offensive may not have been the reason.

  26. karmacat says

    I am appalled that a medical school would allow that picture. I went to med school in the early 1990’s and we were taught to be racially sensitive and be aware of cultural differences. they should have known better by the 1980’s

  27. mikehuben says

    PZ Myers @26:

    From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
    Ubiquitous comes to us from the noun ubiquity, meaning “presence everywhere or in many places simultaneously.” Synonyms: commonplace, everyday, familiar, frequent, garden-variety, household, ordinary, quotidian, routine, usual.
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ubiquitous

    Many places simultaneously. “Presence everywhere” literally doesn’t even apply to electrons. “Everywhere” needs to be interpreted as meaning something closer to “everywhere within perception”. You may note that I limited the perception to “in 80’s Virginia” when I used the term. But “in many places simultaneously” also makes me correct. And the synonyms also support me, perhaps more strongly.

    But the word isn’t important. The important thing was the 80’s Virginia environment, where blackface was a common trope for humor. Where KKK hoods were also a common trope.

  28. John Morales says

    mikehuben, it’s not important, so therefore you elaborate? Heh.

    Literally, ‘ubiquitous’ is ‘synonymous’ with omnipresent; and it’s “synonymous” with “commonplace, everyday, familiar, frequent, garden-variety, household, ordinary, quotidian, routine, usual” in the same sense as “fantastic, incredible, amazing, awesome” are synonymous with ‘I was impressed”. That is, not literally so.

    More to the point, you’ve just granted PZ’s very point; in order to dispute his claim that it was not ubiquitous, you claim it was so in a loose sense in a limited time in a limited place.

    Which means it wasn’t literally ubiquitous.

    In passing, I do recall here in Oz back in the late 70s or early 80s seeing TV reruns of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_and_White_Minstrel_Show where I then lived, in Adelaide.

    I did find it kinda obviously racist, and I didn’t have an SJW bone in my body then, nor did I have any problem with racism. I personally would never have done it, not because I had a problem with racism, but because I thought it to be stupid.

    (Blackface was there too, it just wasn’t ubiquitous ;) )

  29. chrislawson says

    wcorvi@25–

    You’re missing a few excluded middles there between “overt racism” and “no racism”.

    Those kids in PZ’s yearbook were living in a state with segregated housing policies. Those policies affected school zoning, health care, and subsequent chances of goiing to university. Even if the kids in those yearbooks were anti-racist in every fibre of their body, they were still living in a racist society with profound effects on their living standards — just a for instance, none of those white kids in the yearbook would have been forced to leave their homes when several black neighborhoods around Rondo were demolished for the I-94 highway in the late 60s (because of course it was much cheaper to knock down black neighborhoods).

    From the Mapping Prejudice project:

    In the United States, racial segregation channels the flow of resources. Where you live determines access to community assets. Majority white neighborhoods have more parks and more generous tree cover. Communities of color have more environmental hazards like landfills and highways. They have less access to medical care, which translates into higher rates of infant mortality and premature births. Schools in these neighborhoods usually have fewer experienced teachers and less challenging curriculum. Some institutions beat the odds. But most struggle to maintain the resources necessary to meet the needs of their communities.

    And the effects did not end in 1968 just because the law changed…

    Today [2016] Minneapolis has the lowest African-American homeownership rate in the country. And since most families amass wealth through property ownership, this homeownership gap continues to feed our contemporary racial wealth gap.

    Of course, it’s not that we should necessarily expect teenagers to address this in their yearbooks — which is why PZ called it a more subtle problem. His point wasn’t “oh those dreadful Minnesotan teens refusing to acknowledge racism”, his point was that when racism is baked into your society it’s easy for it to go unremarked upon, especially when you’re the beneficiary of generations of it.

  30. chrislawson says

    Even more succinctly, I think PZ’s point is that you can’t say “no blackface, no racism.”

  31. John Morales says

    chrislawson:

    Even more succinctly, I think PZ’s point is that you can’t say “no blackface, no racism.”

    Mmmm. Given he conceded that “the Pacific Northwest has [had?] its own racist problems”, but “… between 1970 and 1975, there were no yearbook photos of anyone in blackface. No KKK robes. No swastikas. No confederate flags.”, I cannot dispute he said that.

    Me, what I find most salient is: “You know, it was entirely possible for kids in that era to be innocent and completely unaware of the very idea of using racist ideas to disparage others.”, drawing a distinction thus: “I don’t know what has been going on in Virginia or other Southern states, but it seems to me that part of the blame has to rest on an openly racist culture that allowed such behavior to flourish.”.

    So, for me, his point is that overt racist expression flourishes in an openly racist culture — the corollary being that finding such openly racist depictions indicates a culture is openly racist.

    (Or, in your pithy style: ““no blackface, no open racism.””)

  32. mikehuben says

    John Morales @35:
    “mikehuben, it’s not important, so therefore you elaborate? Heh.”

    When the moderator thinks he can spank me with a dictionary, it is important to me. But it is not important to the argument. His use of the word was fallacious: he said that “we should kill the myth that blackface and other racist behaviors were ubiquitous 30+ years ago”. They were ubiquitous in Virginia, the relevant location.

    You seem to have difficulty with the concept that words have more than one common meaning. You also seem to have problems with the idea that ubiquity is commonly an opinion from a viewpoint, as opposed to the omnipresence of space or a supposed deity.

    But nobody has denied the ubiquity of blackface in the 80’s Virginia environment. PZ’s declaration that it wasn’t universally ubiquitous because it wasn’t present in his community in the west is irrelevant. And that’s an important thing to consider when discussing this issue.

    Your example of the Black and White Minstrel Show goes some way to showing the ubiquity of blackface.

  33. says

    Y’know, this is the guy that Bernie Sanders refused to endorse back in 2016 or so and was roundly criticized for not showing “Democratic Unity”. It was held up as proof that he (Sanders) “wasn’t a Democrat” so everybody should vote against him. Just more proof that those who value party loyalty and “harmony” over positions and ethics end up screwing the party over in the long term.

  34. magistramarla says

    I grew up in small town Illinois. The racism was overt there. I heard the n word at home, in relatives’ homes, in school, etc.
    My first job was in the recreation center next to our high school. The older sister of one of my classmates had married an African-American, and they had moved back to town to raise their children. Their beautiful little girl came to the summer program at the rec center. I noticed that none of the children or employees would engage with her, so I did. She became my little buddy that summer. At 16, I could see that there was something wrong going on there.
    I also heard that there was an unwritten “No POCs allowed” rule at our community pool and I was PO’d about that.
    When I moved to the dorm in college and was assigned an African-American roommate, my mother had a hissy fit, which I ignored. I learned quite a bit from Mary (even though we each spent more time with our respective boyfriends, later husbands, than with each other).
    It took a conscience effort for me to overcome my upbringing in that culture. By listening to my teachers and reading a lot, I managed it. I know that many of my classmates did not.

  35. bromis says

    when I was a child. by that I would say before the age of 25 I expressed homophobic opinions. I would say these mainly stemed from ignorance and my limited experience of social norms. I now look back on those opinions with embarrassment. everyone can change and I know I have. But to change we must first acknowledge how foolish we were and for a public figure this acknowledgement should be public. especially if our failings are also that. this has the power to inspire others to accept their past mistakes and drive real change. this is what we need in our politicians otherwise what’s the point?

  36. methuseus says

    @bromis #46
    The problem is that there’s no indication of change. He never claimed he has grown since then. He never stated it was unequivocally wrong to have done. He didn’t even admit that it was he himself in the picture!
    Yes, we need to forgive people who are truly sorry for what they have done. This isn’t a case where that’s applicable, though.

  37. says

    You cannot automatically judge everyone’s past by today’s standard. Look at the change in opinions about gay marriage in US between 2004 (30% for, 62% against) and 2012 (49% for, 40% against). People learn, people grow, society changes along.
    I also look back at my position on atheism, gay marriage or abortion and I realise that as a highschool student I was pretty close to average opinion of my classmate but the more I learned, read, saw, the more my opinion changed and it depended less and less on what I was breathing every day as a highschooler (I don’t think I ever flopped, I just radicalised :D)

    So basically every one who would say “I was a stupid schmuck as a teenager and I am ashamed now. I didn’t know I am doing anything wrong then and I learned and grew since that time, look at my record” should be given a chance (unless the said record…..)

    About Gene Wilder’s blackface
    Even after watching the video I am still not sure of whole context of that Gene Wilder scene, however I think that judging actors who play specific role requires context.
    Edward Norton acted a lot of bad stuff in American History X but no one sane would call him racist for playing a racist character.

    Also…. blackface being automatically wrong IS the cultural issue and it can change over time. There is nothing inherently wrong or harmful in dressing up as a person with different skin color or different hair color. All depends on intent and on cultural association. It so happens that in USA history of painting someone’s face black is heavily loaded with racism and prejudice and that’s why it is something that most people would not do. That means that most of the time people who were bllackface want to send racist message and the act itself becomes some kind of declaration.
    I live in Central Europe, ex communist, now EU member country with (up until few years back) non-white population below 1%. We never had slaves, colonies or large numbers of economic immigrants from african countries. No history of using blackface in culture to speak of. And if someone in my country wears blackface (like in a costume party) most people just don’t care and if someone starts condemning it usually is seen as blind follower of US customs. When recently one contestant in the talent show where participants are supposed to dress up as artist who originally sang the song performed, one contestant choose Drake (I think) and used dark makeup there was a short discussion in the media but extremely small minority seen that as offensive, most people didn’t care and didn’t see it as offensive, eespecially that contestant was trying to pay homage to the person he impersonated.
    So to sum up – it is totally possible that some of the decent people did in the past stuff that would be considered horrible or offensive today. They may have changed, society may have changed or maybe they just needed time to realise that just because other people sometimes do it, it doesn’t mean it is ok.
    But if they did something in the past, they should admit it and show who they really are now.

    (I don’t judge current political event in the US, it’s just general opinion)

  38. starfleetdude says

    Gorzki,

    That blackface scene in Silver Streak was originally written to have a white man come in the bathroom and be fooled by Wilder’s character in blackface. Richard Pryor suggested that it be changed to have a black man come in and surprise him, and of course not be fooled – but then tell him that he’s got to at least get the beat! So what was at best a mildly funny scene was made hilarious by mocking Wilder’s ineptness at keeping the beat – which pokes fun at the whole minstrel show meme where whites played blacks in blackface doing music. It was kind of brilliant, and it was pulled off very well.

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