Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

SEEING RED OVER BLACKFACE

          Blackface?–making a comeback? This is lost on the younger generation, but they’ll learn quickly via the realm of celebrity: Katy Perry’s brand has dropped two pairs of shoes from its line, and Gucci tried to cash in on black celebrity with a tasteless production of an expensive knit top—both losing their sophisticated repute in the process. And it didn’t stop there: Prada used blackface on new figurines while Moncler adorned a luxury coat with it.

          Dear me. On the Mississippi River, where I grew up, blackface was already going out of style among Southern sensitivities that surrounded me. Now what is black in hue is making lots of people see red.

          The face of this renaissance in stupidity begins with Gov. Northum of Old Virginny whose decades-old school yearbook showed a feller in blackface and another in KKK garb, leading him first to apologize, then to deny that either knucklehead was him.

          This led to an outcry that he jump ship to assuage not only black folk but outraged white liberals. Alas and alack, his black voting constituents urged him to stay on. This of course complicated the issue and he was able to buy time whilst controversy of other sorts swam around his lieutenant governor and the state AG.

          It also gave modern Southern Rebels a respite from assaults on their defense of Confederate statues, which comprise a frightful number throughout Old Dixie—including Virginia itself, which as of 2015 has taken to honor John Wilkes Booth for trying to do the country what he thought was a favor and, sadly, succeeded in doing so. And just in the nick of time too as most folks, North and South alike, had already forgotten the Garrett Farm near Port Royal where Booth was caught and driven from his mortal coil.

          The whole problem here is the human memory, which tends to forget a lot: for one thing, that blackface entertainment, first done by white people using cork and polish to resemble another race, had been going on since slaves arrived in these parts some 200 years ago.

          Its comic value was in derisive stereotyping of slaves in what came to be called minstrel shows. Why was it so funny, and how could that be? After all, tragic circumstance had forcibly brought persons of a different color here and shoved them into a system that taught them  nothing but inhuman toil and whippings, let alone the language in which they would have to communicate.

          The psychology of it was possibly a subliminal desensitization process for whites to the horrors of slavery. Sadly, it was the only depiction many of them had of black people—portrayed as lazy, dumb, cowardly and hypersexual. And it was also funny to white audiences for the use of black vernacular. As luck would have it, such entertainments spread from the South to the Northern U.S.

          And should you think that the elite of dominant culture rose above this, consider that Al Jolson wore blackface in “Jazz Singer” as late as 1927, and forget not that some of the most beloved child stars of the age also donned the look: Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among them. Two knuckleheads, Charlie Cornell and Freeman Gosden, did the worst such portrayal and, thankfully, were the last I was destined to see: they looked neither black nor white, just a couple of bums trying to do something, though we knew not what.

          So while we debate whether the Northums of the world should be judged for long-ago mistakes, or cut some slack in the name of “second chances,” we should know and understand why all of this is so hurtful to blacks, not only now but Back Then. All of it was a cruel lie and we tend more to carry the worst of it into our subconscious thinking and acting, making it harder to see and acknowledge that those among us of African descent are undeserving of such derision and stereotyping.

          But as it stands, white culture thinks this crisis and its debate is all about them. So here we go again.

          

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