Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Blackface: Why does it make people so angry?

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Let me start by saying this: I DO NOT have all the answers - nor do I claim to even be aware of all the questions.

I only know that the news reports circulating the media outlets today about the racially degrading use of BLACKFACE for Halloween costumes really upset me. And not for the reasons you think.

For example - this morning I heard all about four Brock University students who attended a Halloween party at the campus pub dressed as the Jamaican Bobsled team, complete with blackface. They won a prize for their ingenuity. Now everybody involved with this event is being reprimanded and sent away for "sensitivity training"... I don't get it.

So what's the problem? Here's how I understand it from the radio broadcast. Blackface is racist. It is a politically incorrect demonstration of racial stereotypes. It is disrespectful and makes a lot of people angry.

REALLY? Because there are SO MANY Jamaican bobsledders in our culture that to depict them in a costume is a perpetuation of a stereotype?

Wait a minute... I think I missed something in the messaging that dressing up like a group of four unique and inspirational young men is somehow WRONG.

And then I caught the last moments of an interview with the producer of the film, "Dear White People" - who was talking about how the use of blackface has been a tool to parody the stereotypical Black man or woman. Again, I heard a lot  of the words "politically incorrect" being thrown about.

I guess I'm just na├»ve. I will be the first to admit that I don't fully understand the ways in which Blackface has been used historically, but I am certainly no stranger to racism. And I get it from both sides, courtesy of the fact that I married a White man and have three gorgeous mixed-race (and very, very light-Black) children.  But let's just say that I'm kind of dumb when it comes to this particular aspect of American cultural history. I still have a couple of questions, and I think they are valid. I'm curious to hear what others have to say about this.

If Blackface is wrong, disrespectful, and politically incorrect, does it then follow that if I (a Black woman) wanted to attend a costume party dressed as a Geisha, that it would be wrong, disrespectful, and politically incorrect to put white powder and that special makeup on my face? Would it be wrong for me to wear a sari to a traditional East Indian wedding, even if I am not Indian? If I want to go to a costume party am I restricted to wearing only costumes that reflect my skin colour and/or my racial heritage?

Would it be MORE politically correct for me to go to a party dressed as Aunt Jemima? Or perhaps I could put a weave in my hair, wear lots of bling and tight clothing and use the persona of LaQuifa the music video dancer... would that be appropriate?  How about this... what if my boys went to a party dressed in ragged clothes with a ball and chain around their ankles... would that be OK, since they are at least part Black?  Oh... oh... here's another one... If my boys paired up with a couple of their light-black friends and then used blackface to make their faces darker so that they could pull of a convincing representation of the Jamaican bobsled team, would that have been OK, or would that have been seen as politically incorrect as well?

If my children want to emulate a movie character or enter a look-alike contest, are they restricted to ONLY people who look like them? Was it politically incorrect for my daughter to enter (and win) a J-Lo look-alike contest back in the day? Should she have returned the prize because she is light-black and not Latino? 

Why, why, why after all this time, are we still having discussions about "race" and skin colour, and how have we gotten to the place that representing another culture than the one you were born into has become decidedly "incorrect"?

I know this isn't my typical Anger Solutions type of post, but I honestly think this is a conversation worth having. I for one know who I am, and I am certain that my identity is NOT wrapped up in the colour of my skin. I am so much more than the pigmentation of my melanin... I would hope that we can one day - perhaps even in my lifetime - begin to see people for who they are, rather than what they look like. Perhaps one day all of the "politically correct" people will step down from their hypocritical ivory towers, stop telling everybody else how and what to think.

What makes me angry about all of this is that there are some nameless, faceless people out there defending my feeble, helpless, Black self from all of these apparent haters - apparently because I can't speak up for myself. Now WHO is perpetuating the stereotype?

I'm interested in your comments. Please keep any trolling or flaming comments to yourself - they won't be published anyway. But seriously - if you're concerned, or have another perspective on this conversation, I welcome your thoughts. It's worth talking about.