How Blackface Feeds White Supremacy

A racist caricature from 19th-century minstrel theater still haunts America.

Comments: 133

  1. Missing here is a consideration of the cultural work of the minstrel show. Blackface emerged within the context of a more general discussion about the evils of slavery and the treatment of slaves. This discussion is still with us. Supporters of slavery argued that slaves were quite happy on the plantation and were certainly no worse off than the wage “slaves” in northern factories. Abolitionists argued that slaves had their labor stolen, were treated horribly, and that slavery as an institution harmed both the slaves and those holding them. When abolitionists took escaped slaves on educational tours to demonstrate the evils of slavery, a key trope was the unveiling of the slave’s body to show the attendees the scars from beatings and other maltreatment. Some slave narratives published at this time showed pictures of these scars as well. Within this context, Blackface emerged to demonstrate to a wider mostly northern audience that slaves were all just stupid, happy, workers, who plantation owners were helping through life by providing work, clothing, food, health care, and so on. For slavery's defenders, the plantation system was a losing proposition as a result of the high costs of keeping such slothful slaves. It is no coincidence that Blackface is re-appearing at a time when we are arguing about whether or how we should compensate the descendants of slaves for the labor that was stolen from them. If they were happy and well kept laborers there is nothing to repay.

  2. Mr. Staples has written a fine article about the history of this racist custom. Unbelievably, it bears repeating in post-Obama America that wearing blackface isn’t really about dressing up to look like someone else on Halloween. Mr. Staples uses the example of Hollywood entertainers like Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney dressing in blackface in their early films. I feel it’s important to mention that these performers were not themselves known to be racist, and unlike the stars of today had little to no agency over what they did or how they appeared in their films. As a popular and widely accepted form of entertainment in the first half of the 20th century, nearly every Hollywood musical star of the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s performed in blackface at some point. Doris Day performed in blackface in a musical as late as 1951. While grotesque and clearly designed to demean the race it mocked, the blackface vaudeville performance- as Mr. Staples points out- was a staple of popular entertainment in film, radio, and on stage. In the case of Judy Garland, a Google search reveals photos of her dancing in the arms of the legendary African American boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson at a party in 1951- which raised a few eyebrows. And after the horrific bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama in September of 1963, Ms. Garland gave a press conference in Beverly Hills angrily denouncing the murders. People aren’t always easy to paint with one brush based on past actions.

  3. I volunteer at a local Free Clinic in Virginia where about 40% of our patients are black and all of our volunteer physicians happen to be white. The affection between all of our patients and physicians is obvious. I would never in a million years, as Mr. Staples suggests, insult our dedicated volunteer physicians by asking them how "devaluation of blackness" affects how they treat our patients. They would be outraged - and rightfully so.

  4. Thank you Mr. Staples for an excellent review of a part of our American history. I wish it were not so, but it is and we need to know all of it. I appreciate that you have helped us understand this important part of our shared history and how it affects us even today.

  5. I assure you my family during that era had nothing not with minstrel shows or vaudeville. They weren't in show business. Not that it maters were. They were laborers and factory workers. Immigrants from Southern Europe who were glad to leave for a much better life here. They never talked about the misery and systemic injustices they faced in Europe or here which were numerous. Trust me they still don't like my kind. At times my work and safety were affected. It came from black people to. I survive. The nytimes must pay you well. I don't know do you get public speaking fee's speaking out against blackface and minstrel shows making certain white people guilty and black people angry. Most people don't care what happened in the past. Like this piece is in the sixties. Isn't this the third one you wrote? One of the reasons editorial board is lacking imagination.

  6. Thank you for writing this. Since the black face incident with the Virginia governor a few months ago, I have been learning more about the history of blackface. Your piece is very informative, and I need to go back to it to drill down into all the linked articles you give us.

  7. Failure to focus on what matters is what keeps racism thriving. But whatever makes you happy trumps defeating racism in real life.

  8. "... the singer Katy Perry were forced to withdraw from the market some reviled fashion designs, revealing how the caricature manifests itself through people who are blind to what it connotes." Those were shoes, and the linked Times article says that they "came in nine different colorways, including black." A Google images search confirms that one of those colorways was "white" (possibly beige, based on the photos). Further, the "eyes" were blue. The critics failed to note those complicating facts about the shoes. That failure is a perfect example of the racism of the culture police, who only see "blackface" and are blind to any other facts.

  9. Seeing that picture of Shirley Temple in blackface is truly awful. I wonder how she would respond today to her memory of having adults put her in that position. I'll choose to remember her wonderful tap dancing with Bill Robinson instead, up and down those stairs. I'm 67 and I remember my very racist grandfather wearing blackface and playing banjo in a minstrel show in the 1950's. I remember the word 'coon' being used constantly to describe black people by my father. Somehow, I was lucky to have my own mind at a very young age and I rejected their racist nonsense. Maybe it was because both my father and grandfather were evil in other ways and so I rejected their racism along with everything else about them. Maybe that was, in a very odd way, the way I knew, from a very young age, that it was a crime against our collective humanity.

  10. My grandparents spent their teenage years in Nazi concentration camps. They lost most of their family and friends and their homes and all personal property and suffered less than robust physical health the rest of their lives because of years of near starvation. They dealt with it. In a perverse way the experience helped them focus on what was really important in life. And some people are having fits about theatrical make up? Really? They need to get over it. They apparently have too much idle time on their hands.

  11. I think if we dwell too much on past transgressions, we'll miss out on the behavior of the vast majority of white Americans who agree that any racial stereotype is bad, even little jabs like Joe Biden making regarding 7/11's counter employees. My brother learned the song Dixie when he was in a fraternity in college in the last 70's and in truth, I've never heard him sing it..whistle it..or hum it since the late 1970's. I do believe that's called progress...and I do agree that Northam needs to apologize..not resign. If we're gong to apply 2019 sensitivities to behavior that occurred 35 years ago, I know a few dozen black fraternity men who will need to fess up for whipping, beating and hazing their pledges while hog tying them so they could burn the Alpha or Omega brand into their upper arm. Racism doesn't discriminate, nor does bad behavior. Let's all get along..and move tomorrow knowing that yesterday is behind us.

  12. No question that blackface is extremely offensive but is it really an issue that we have to worry about in 2019? I grew up in the deep South during the '60s. I never saw blackface or minstrel show, never knew anyone who had witnessed either one. Even then it was considered bad taste. Do people actually have to take every comment or dress about ethnicity to the extreme as if there is no difference between an actual racist statement and a stupid comment or action? It's exhausting. And it numbs the impact of actual racist comments. Can we at least agree that there is a difference between something that is borderline racial and something that is racist? I'm reminded of the girl who wore the Chinese dress to prom, because she thought it was beautiful, only to be excoriated for that choice. Typical progressive overreaction. We have become too hypersensitive. People change. Do you know people who changed their mind about same-sex marriage? Climate change? Punishing someone who did something 20-30-40 years ago for doing something society now disapproves of is a mistake... unless that someone is still doing it. College kids make idiotic decisions sometimes. But it's a small minority. Do you want to change "innocent" until found guilty to what you are doing now "guilty until proved innocent?" The ascent of extreme Political Correctness is taking us in this direction. We need to allow people to learn from their mistakes, to acknowledge when they improve and grant them redemption.

  13. In the 50's I ate many an Aunt Jemima pancake, slathered in butter and Aunt Jemima syrup. I grew up in a more-segregated-than-not city in Iowa, where all the "Negroes" but for the children of one family attended schools on the east side of the river. While I do not directly recall ever seeing a black-face performance in the school productions, I would not be surprised in the least if they occurred. In fact, I'm almost certain there were some PTA skits put on by and for our parents that did feature such entertainment. Cataracts form over the eyes of memory, just like they do in eye itself. I probably laughed during such events. But am I obligated to apologize now, and tomorrow (for however far into the future "tomorrow" stretches for me) for having eaten the pancakes and syrup with relish, or for not making a scene of walking out on a school skit? Am I required to wear a sandwich board declaring that black-face caricatures now make me cringe until my grave is shoveled in? Gov. Northam has apologized. I think he is on firm footing by refusing to reflexively disappear from public life. His medical career and the care he provided for his patients, regardless of the hue of their skin, now means nothing? The answer to this question, to writer of this article is: No. Now, I have to ask: Where, and when, and with whom does racism end?

  14. @Glen This is a standard white response to this question: So tell me, what am I supposed to do? Crucify myself now for the mistakes of the past, so many years later? When I wasn't even personally involved. Frankly, the passive-aggressive tone is tedious, the disingenuous sentiment tiresome. I'll tell you what you are to do: stop making this all about you. We're not here to tell you how to atone. Find your own path. From the fact that you may be called out for words or behaviors that others consider harmful or inconsiderate, it does not follow that those others, or anyone else, is obliged to provide you with a foolproof guide to navigating modern race relations without causing offense or being criticized. You may view this as your side of the burden, if you like. We get to endure indignities and inequalities as targets of racism; you get to suffer the discomfort of being occasionally obliged to watch what you say.

  15. Yes, so many seemingly benign images from my childhood & youth (1950s-1960s) come to mind. Amos & Andy (I think an early sitcom TV show); "Step-and Fetch it" (the label of one character, I think one from 1940s radio, but one I knew about); Buckwheat from Little Rascals/Spanky & Our Gang (black boy with hair sticking out in all directions). There are also things I look back on, which put the few African-Americans I encountered in a different light than whites. Our neighbors had a maid named Gwendolyn. We kids called her "Gweny." Yet, white adults in our lives from parents friends to neighbors we always called "Mr" or "Mrs,' never the 1st name. My folks were not Archie Bunker types; they didn't allow the "n word" to be said, but they did accept much of the societal message as the way things are... as did many/most "good" white people.

  16. Among many other epithets, I’ve been called “Buckwheat” on a MTA train into the coming city by two white businessmen. Still tho, I don’t agree with this easay in its totality; while we can’t-shouldn’t deny the eroded and eroding “devaluation” of blackness, on another hand the missing valuation of humanity also doesn’t further the conversation.

  17. @Frank Livingston Among many other epithets, I’ve been called “Buckwheat” on a MTA train headed into the city by two white businessmen. Still tho, I don’t agree with this easay in its totality; while we can’t-shouldn’t deny the eroded and eroding “devaluation” of blackness, on another hand the missing valuation of humanity also doesn’t further the conversation.

  18. Political correctness, derided by so many on the right, continues to be necessary. The historical Christian church is guilty of racist caricature of the Jews which resulted in centuries of anti-Semitism resulting in horrors like the Inquisition andHolocaust. The depiction of blackness by whites, tho not resulting in a holocaust per se, has led to atocities against African-Americans so well stated in this piece. We need to continue to emphasize sensitivity to others, whether they be from different background, of different religions, and/or of different races.

  19. Dear Mr. Staples, I thank you for this informative and enlightening article. As an older white woman I strive to increase my sensitivity and look to experts like you to help me do that. It's cliche but true we cannot move forward without understanding the past. This article helps me to more deeply understand the actual history of blackface in the context of a racist society. I am particularly pleased that you included the connection to the eugenics movement, a history many do not understand, but one that leaves lingering effects. Thank you again.

  20. Mr. Staples, for me your last comment is the crux of the matter. The minstrel imagery has become unacceptable but unconscious, subtle bias is here to stay unless more and more Blacks, Latinos and other minorities become widely visible influential members of our society -- that is, politicians, teachers and other professionals, business people, etc. It is very easy for white people to dismiss unconscious bias when they have little or no contact with minorities in their communities. (Northam's laughable denial that he was one of the characters depicted on his yearbook page is just one glaring example.) It will probably take many years but it is fixable if we want to fix it.

  21. well, yes, one seems to bd aware that Blackface, as co-opted by black minstrel performers allowed them to completely subvert American popular culture; the black minstrel troupes of the late 19th century took the culture back and revolutionized performance style,using black face as a means of cultural stealth. Thomas Fletcher, a black man, called minstrelsy "the greatest thing that ever happened to the black performer," because it completely opened up the field to black performers. Bert Williams early on, Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith, Fats Waller - all showed how the minstrel gesture could be used to destroy the minstrel stereotype. Not to mention that studies of early minstrel music show, quite conclusively, that it was modeled quite authentically on black and slave music of the time. And W.T. Llhamon has proved pretty conclusively that a lot of minstrel dance was based on black street performance. So....

  22. “Mr. Northam..... was educated in Virginia, the veritable cradle of eugenics and scientific racism.” This is precisely why he should not be judged as harshly for failing to realize the implications of these images as a young man.( And he was a young man, even though he was not a boy.) He grew beyond this environment to become one of the state’s most persistent fighters for the rights of African-Americans. That is why the majority of his African-American constituents are willing to forgive his youthful cluelessness, and why the rest of us should do the same.

  23. There are may be one instance in pre-civil rights movies where blackface (or may not) be condescending and offensive. Fred Astaire's homage to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in "Swing Time" is brilliant. His blackface is without the stereotype minstrel lips and big rolling eyes. To me it's almost a suggestion that Robinson is black and had the the class not to overdo it and distract from the number. Spike Lee's funny, bitter and cringe worthy "Bamboozled" (2000) deals directly with blackface and other racist depictions of African Americans from all angles, past and the present time of the film. It's an instructive move from Mr. Staples' piece to this flick. Also don't forget the crows (another usually nasty racial stereotype) in Disney's 1941 "Dumbo". They are the only characters there who have the decency, empathy and intelligence to help out the little guy. For some reason Disney, known for his prejudices, treats the these obviously black characters with dignity and respect.

  24. Unfortunately, Blackface is alive and well and making money. Tyler Perry's "Media" epitomizes the rotund, wise-cracking, adorable "mammy". Mr. Perry has reportedly decided to "retire" this character. None too soon for my tastes. For a great send up on Blackface, Spike Lee's film,"Bamboozled" (2000) should be reissued for wide release. It wasn't a money maker at the time, but a lot has happened to us since the millennium. In the sometimes wacky, always genius, ways of Spike Lee,"Bamboozled" crash-lands into the absurdity and virulence of Blackface. Ta-Nehisi Coates' said it better than anyone: "They want our bodies". Taking our freedoms is not enough. And so Blackface becomes the ultimate perversion of the Black body; the penultimate appropriation. (The final being, death itself.) Blackface is the gift that keeps on giving.

  25. Blackface is long gone. America has viewed it as distasteful, offensive, and unacceptable for at least 50 years. At least. It’s decline into deserved oblivion was accomplished long ago. You’re complaining about a non-problem Mr. Staples.

  26. The founding fathers believed that slavery would curse the enslavers as well as bring misery to the enslaved. This amazing article clearly demonstrates that truth.

  27. For those of you who have never seen a minstrel performance in a movie, you can watch a clip from the 1939 movie "Swanee River" here: The singer in blackface is Al Jolson, who plays the impresario E.J. Christy. It was one of his last movie performances. The movie is a fictionalized biography of American composer Stephen Foster, whose limited financial success was attributable to his minstrel songs, such as Camptown Races. Read the comments to the youtube clip. If you want to buy a copy of the movie (DVD), you won't find the technicolor version at Amazon but through an Australian seller on Ebay. Note the difference in the asking prices.

  28. @Howard Jarvis I just finished watching the Al Jolson Camptown Races video on youtube. Pretty bad but nothing as bad as the comment section. Abominable!

  29. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. About 1950 when I was about 12 my parents were talking to a St Louis city official. At that time St. Louis was had complete neighborhood segregation. I never saw a black person other than domestic help traveling to and from work. No blacks in the grocery store; none in the department store; none on the streets. My parents were talking with this man about "colored" neighborhoods. But I have never forgotten what he said and I quote: "We don't send the police in there; we don't care if they kill each other." That was the moment when I knew I had to leave St. Louis. At 18 I came east to college and never lived there again. I remember then, walking in Cambridge, MA, inspired because at last I was in a place where people admitted the presence of evil.

  30. Just over 10 years ago, Robert Downey Jr wore blackface in the movie Tropic Thunder. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role. Ralph Northam wore blackface as part of a costume 35 years ago, and this essay takes him to task for it, yet says nothing about a major motion picture released just more than 10 years ago in which a character also wears blackface. Check out the New York Times review of Tropic Thunder, published in August of 2008. Where's the outrage? There's a paragraph devoted to the wearing of blackface, but no real criticism of the movie's choice to include a character who wears blackface: "Though Mr. Downey's character, who has undergone a skin-darkening procedure to play his part, has been cut from moldy Fred Williamson cloth, he's also the most recognizably human character in a lampoon rife with caricatures." If the New York Times couldn't muster much criticism for the wearing of blackface in a major motion picture 11 years ago, why should Ralph Northam be held to a higher standard of cultural sensitivity for his choice of costume 35 years ago?

  31. If only things were as simple as this author would like to portray them. Looking back on history it is easy to make snap judgements about complex cultural events. It is also easy to reinforce the myth that the Black experience in America was and still is just one long list of grievances. Of course there were injustices and racism was and still is a factor in American life. But to say that the Minstrel Show was 100% racist is just wrong. Like conflating the song Jump Jim Crow with the so-called Jim Crow laws that followed after the Civil War. It's an intellectual short cut that makes understanding past events easier, but not more accurate. For all its awkwardness and derision Black Face Minstrelsy was still a coming together of Black and White cultures, especially after people of Color began to participate in it. It is sad and tragic that a great original Black comedian like Bert Williams is purposely forgotten today simply because he blacked up for comic effect. And does this mean everyone who darkened their face was a racist? Buster Keaton did it for a laugh in his movies. Lawrence Olivier did it to play Othello. Amos and Andy were White actors who played credulous Black characters. Were they racists? They certainly had a big following in the Black community. Rock and Roll is full of Black imitators. All racists?

  32. @GBR And while we’re at it, let’s ban all caricature, mimicry, irony, and slapstick, as well as any kind of humor that pokes fun in a way that might be considered demeaning to anyone’s behavior, race, ethnicity, creed, gender, or sexual orientation; and retool our language of free speech to allow zero tolerance for anything deviating from the politically correct. We can all be one happy family in America’s new Cultural Revolution!

  33. @Michael George I've noticed no one ever objects to age based demeaning or insulting portrayals of seniors...

  34. I am growing uncomfortable with the term "White Supremacy". In no way am I attempting to diminish or ignore racist attitudes and actions perpetuated by white-skinned people. However, I think we are starting up more problems using this term. I'd much rather see "Racial Supremacist" because that is really what it is about. "Black" has become a word that evokes, sadly and wrongly stereotypical responses and we will end up doing the same with the word "White" if we are not careful. Racial Supremacy is deplorable. The colour of the skin is not and it shouldn't become part of the racial supremacist definition. If it does, what have we accomplished other than perpetuating more racism?

  35. Every time I see blackface I think of all those nineteenth century minstrel shows. Doesn’t everyone?

  36. Here are some more resources: Emery, Lynne Fauley. Black Dance: From 1619 to Today. Princeton, 1988. Hill, Constance Valis. Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2010. Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts.Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996. Gottschild, Brenda Dixon. Waltzing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era. New York: Palgrave-Macmilla, 2000. Knowles, Mark. Tap Roots: The Early History of Tap Dancing. McFarland, 2002. Kootin, Amma Y Ghartey-Tagoe. “Lessons in Blackbody Minstrelsy: Old Plantation and the Manufacture of Black Authenticity.” TDR/The Drama Review57, no. 2 (2013): 102–22. Peters, Donna-Marie. “Dancing with the Ghost of Minstrelsy: A Case Study of the Marginalization and Continued Survival of Rhythm Tap.” Journal of Pan African Studies4, no. 6 (2011): 82–105. Stearns, Marshall Winslow, and Jean Stearns.Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. New York: Macmillan, 1968. Walker, Sheila S., ed. African roots/American cultures: Africa in the creation of the Americas. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

  37. Blackface is history, not a present day kind of thing.

  38. "... household names like Judy Garland, ... took to the screen with darkened faces, transforming the racist caricature into family entertainment. ..." In "Everybody Sing" (1938) the Garland character in blackface is exposed as a fraud, so Staples is overlooking some important context. In particular, Ricky attempts to *wipe off* the blackface before he rips off her wig. And Garland does not sing or speak with "mangled speech" in that movie.

  39. We live in an age where we are encouraging ourselves to "self-identify" as whatever we want. We can be black. We can be White. We can be Female. We can be Male. Rachel Dolezal beleived she was black. Colin Kapernick, half white. half black....raised asserts that he's black. The whole debate over black and white has become very superficial and meaningless. What about the Beverly Hillbillies? Does one necessarily have to be an oppressed appalachian-american with pelegra to portray a hillbilly on TV? Are people from Alabama "hillbilly" enough to pretend to be from West Virginia/Eastern Kentucky? where do we draw the line on who is a hillbilly and who isnt??? Blackface is part of AMERICAN culture, embrace the face........but also understand the pain that preceeded it...... White is NOT a color....but in actuality a broad spectrum of many colors.....and the unique American definition of white has been the total exclusion of so-called "black"(absence of color) people. Everyone else around the globe gets into the White Area very easily..........only black descendants of african slaves get excluded............until very recently.

  40. Of course, the actors on the TV version of Amos n' Andy didn't have to wear Blackface, since all the actors had real black faces. Too bad the brilliant work of those African-Americans in a show that sardoniically championed liberal values has been unfairly tarred with a fake news charge of racism.

  41. While any practice of blackface would be insensitive, this article is a distraction from the overriding current issue of self imposed black dependency and despondency from the unacceptably high rate of single mother illegitimacy and the lack of a male presence in the household. The results are obvious and devastating to the family, offspring, and society.I challenge the black leadership and academics to focus on family responsibility instead of past injustices and micro racism.

  42. What are we enlightened folk in the 21st supposed to do about the blackface crisis?? Do we demand Netflix yank the Jazz Singer off its website because Al Jolson sang Mammy wearing blackface make up? The last time I remember seeing blackface make up in a movie was when Dan Aykroyd used it as a disguise in Trading Places. Guess what? Everyone got the joke and laughed.

  43. As Ronald Reagan said, there you go again, in this case Mr Staples. Only App. 5-10% of Americans are hard core racists, bigots, anti semites etc. etc. The proof of the above stat unlike other countries it is the reason we don't have race, ethnic, religious wars going on forever like in other parts of the world. Some of it is black hatred but others are muslim, female, male, Jewish hatred etc. etc. Don't play the generation, black card game Mr. Staples. Whites today by and large are not the bigots whites were 60+ yrs. ago. Blacks have general equality in theory and practice since app. 1970. By bringing up generational politics or playing the black card, you harm your own race instead of helping it. The greatest two thing that happened to black Americans were Lincoln leading the fight for the 13th anti slavery amendment and MLK with Civil Rights. Like with anything else including motherhood and apple pie, this topic can be perverted with writers like you playing the generational, black card game. When you do that, you help elect a bigot, ego maniac demagogue like Trump. If you continue to do that, you will help re elect him.

  44. Nonsense. It only haunts America when it is dragged out of the rubbish bin and forced back into public view by people trying to make America look far more racist than it actually is, to suit their cynical political agenda.

  45. Thanks for giving us an illustrated history of blackface! That which is deplorable becomes fashion, and that which is fashionable soon fades. Good riddance to blackface and all other forms of racism! Do we forget that our fathers and brothers fought a world war against white Aryan "superiority"? Do we forget that our mothers and sisters labored in the factories and farms that armed and fed our fighting men? Do we forget the Holocaust and the just devastation of the German homeland? Mr. Staples, now remind us of the evils and consequences of racist politics. Give us a history of the war against racial superiority, illustrated with panoramic views of the cemeteries of the fallen and the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Let us never forget that the manifest destiny of racial superiority and racial prejudice is death and destruction!

  46. Two things: Clive Baldwin, an Al Jolson impersonator, performed (in blackface) in Las Vegas in 1975. If you want to see that B&W photograph of a minstrel show come to eerie, creepy, can't take you eyes off it, life, YOUTUBE Al Jolson Camptown Races IN COLOR

  47. White people dressing up in blackface, particularly when it appeared decades or even a century ago, is the least of the problems facing the black community. And I have a hard time seeing any white supremacy when a black man (Jussie Smollett) gets off scot free after faking a hate crime attack.

  48. African American complexions are beautiful. All races are beautiful. People wear makeup. People wear costumes. Celebrate beauty. All beauty. Anyone can dress as they like and wear makeup as they like. You don’t own skin pigment. White people don’t own a lack of pigment. We can all love, admire and represent as we like. Get over yourself sir; a costume is not about you, and if you are not pleased by a costume, leave the party. You are welcome at my party; you can use whatever makeup you like. I promise I will not judge you. Because I am not a megalomaniac. No one owns the right to be offended by something neither designed to be offensive nor actually offensive. If you are offended, it represents rampant megalomania or an internal hatred for your complexion, both of which are mental illnesses not resulting from a costume. #NoSnowflakes Does that culturally offend people from nations covered with snow? Because I live where it is mostly sunny and don’t want to offend ......

  49. I've lived in the South all of my life and I'd never heard of the minstrel blackface tradition until it had recently been trumpeted by the far left as part of the "woke" agenda. Interesting . . . .

  50. If, after reading Brent Staples’ thoughtful well researched essay about blackface, you still can’t see the difference between such depictions and drag, then you are to be pitied.

  51. My friend and I, both typically culturally clueless Americans, were in Amsterdam on December 6. We asked some locals what the parade was all about. It's the "Feast of Sinterklaas" we were told. We watched what seemed to be a cross between a very white bishop and Santa Claus ride by on a giant white horse followed by harlequin-clad, very black guys jumping around like idiots. "Are those white guys in blackface?" my buddy asked incredulously. When asked about this the Dutch white people around us, laughing and smiling at the antics of the cavorting servants of Sinterklaas, became defensive. "Sinterklaas and the parade are an important part of Dutch culture," they claimed. "White people deeming black people in public is an important part of your culture?" we asked. "You don't understand," they concluded. "We don't do that where we come from anymore," we announced. Little did we know. Apparently worldwide white culture ignorantly (and perhaps increasingly willfully) clings to racists totems like children clinging to their blankets and yelling "Mine!". Time to grow up, see such totems for what they are, stop clinging to these symbols of racist privilege and end such stubborn defense of some supposedly precious parts of national culture.

  52. At Purdue in the late forties, the fraternities performed minstrel shows in the Music Hall. Student and faculty protests ended the "entertainment," but only after some turmoil. It should also be recalled that Hitler was well aware of the racist character of American public opinion, as embodied in our nation's legal system. Whitman's book, Hitler's American Model, examines how American racial laws served as a template for the notorious Nuremberg Laws. Lastly, it was customary for the Indianapolis Star to place on its Sunday paper a photo of the winner of the Indiana Basketball tourney, except the year an all black high school, Chrispus AAucks, won the state title.

  53. Time, 2019 to be exact, to move on to weightier topics that can actually change lives instead of grinding the same old grievance axe. The United States of America was founded by all White Men and yeah they thought themselves superior to all Blacks and most other White Men. So what. It doesn't make our country any less than the greatest place on the face of the earth. Folks who don't agree are always welcome to relocate.

  54. The amount of whitesplaining and rationalizing in these comments is so illustrative. And racist. “I’ve never seen it, so I don’t think it’s happening” or “it wasn’t always meant mockingly”, I mean c’mon! I had no idea so many white people in 2019 think blackface is kinda okay, no big deal, get over it. I don’t know why I’m surprised. The insidiousness of racism runs deep.

  55. Fascinating piece, Mr. Staples. What's also interesting is the fact that America's version of racism and/or eugenics was exported to Nazi Germany and earned itself the admiration as well as the envy of Hitler who included its example in his plans to create the next super race at the expense of everyone else deemed inferior. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the last of this egregious behavior right here at home and in the Oval Office.

  56. All evil seems to originate in NYC and Hollywood.

  57. Thank you for one of the clearest and most informative articles I've seen on this. Would be interested to see some more about the medical policies alluded to. Another recent article, Mammy Jars Mock Black People. Why Are They Still Collected? mentions “jolly Obama banks”. Right here in the 21st century.

  58. Thank for this succinct and ugly history of blackface. I learned a lot.

  59. This constant cry of racism, in everything now, is getting real old. So is people defending Smollet. If I did that, I'd probably be sentenced to prison. Blackface. Seriously? Nobody takes it seriously. Anybody that does is just trying to be funny or is very naive. Do you think an actual White Supremist would really do that?

  60. I'm beginning to think the NYTimes is using race as a way to catch eyeballs like the GOP has been using race to corral voters. I woke up at 3:30 this morning unable to sleep and turned to the Opinion section that has become so repetitive it's sleep inducing to find 3 out of 4 of the featured articles were about race. It's surprising only because it wasn't 3 out of 4 about Trump. I've become so bored of the Trump and evidently the Times has figured that out and moved onto race trying to keep my attention. Well you know what, it's not working.

  61. Blackface, blackface, blackface. This topic has become extremely tiresome. Is nothing happening in the entire world that's newsworthy?

  62. When I was a little kid I dressed up as a hobo for Halloween, complete with baggy pants, dirty face and a stick with a bundle of rags at the end. Little did I know, I was denigrating the homeless with my insensitive costume. I feel bad about it now. Where can I send my reparations?

  63. There is no debate about the inappropriateness and racism that is blackface But it is not a pervasive occurrence in this day and age and the continued commentaries regarding it are in fact a whitewash of the real and much more serious problems facing black people presently....teen pregnancy, fractured families, lack of parental involvement in schools, poverty, drugs and inner city violence. Write about these issues and their solutions and not about a stupid custom of 150 years ago that is not relevant today but for a few misguided and moronic politicians and celebrities

  64. What about pornography? Predominately women, only young ones, usually buxom, who are sex objects who like domination. Many women have been demeaned and worse because of this stereotype. But, too much pleasure and profit involved for pornography to get a truly honest look. Beside, it's about women, so less important.

  65. Very good piece of history. It helps me recognize how deeply embedded the image of the ridiculous and subservient black minstrel goes in our culture, and how recent is it. At 53 years of age, I can recall growing up in Southern California and regularly eating at a local Sambo's Restaurant, a chain of diners whose mascot was a little black Sambo and his tiger. My wife, an African American whose mother was a house keeper her whole life, keeps a beloved Aunt Jemima cookie jar she grew up with in our kitchen. These images can mean many different things depending upon context. Where do we go from here? What do we do with the information Mr. Staples is bringing to the conversation? Do we decide that the United States, perhaps the freest, most open, dynamic and welcoming society in the history of the world, is really a hotbed of white supremacy? Is the biggest problem facing African Americans today white racism? And do we really know everything we need to know about Governor Northam, that he's despicable because he grew up in Virginia and was stupid, callow and callous enough to play with racist imagery 35 years ago?

  66. Thank you for this history lesson and, separately, showing how much we are still a part of that history. You have the same visceral reaction to this racist caricature, that only shames your race, as I have whenever I see Trump and his racist character, at one of his rallies, shame the white race. May both these remnants of racism end up on the scrapheap of our, continuing, history.

  67. Marilyn Kern-Foxworth writes in her study of racist advertising that it was difficult in the mid-20th century to “prepare a meal without using food products featuring a stereotypical pickaninny, black mammy or black Sambo.” Quite the exaggeration. Absolute hype. Hundreds and hundreds of food products and nearly all of them WITHOUT a black person as part of the branding.

  68. "... The blackface photographs [of] Michael Ertel ... and a similar picture discovered on the medical school yearbook page of Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia ..." Those photos are definitely NOT "similar". First, Ertel appears to be cross-dressing as a female. Second, and much more important, the Northam yearbook photo has a *second* character crudely caricaturing a KKK member. To his credit, Staples acknowledges that there are two characters in the Northam yearbook photo: "a white man in blackface standing next to a person in Klan garb". However, the photo is much more complex than that: 1. The KKK cap is too pointed -- it looks like a dunce cap. 2. The KKK robe does not have the KKK blood drop emblem on it. 3. The two characters are so close that they could be touching. 4. The two characters are SHARING drinks. Thus, the Northam yearbook photo is anti-racist, because it mocks the KKK, and it depicts the two characters as COMRADES.

  69. A leading toothpaste brand in Asia is called “Darlie”. The brand ranks as a “Super Brand” in much of Asia, especially Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and parts of China. The brand changed its name quite recently, it was originally named “Darkie”. And, no surpise, the logo was a caricature of a black face, with a huge grin. The colour has now been lightened a bit. While the English name has changed, the Chines name remains, get ready for it, “Black Person Toothpaste”. I am dead serious.

  70. The author doesn’t indicate how this impacts the present date, only that it happened in the past by referencing some old yearbooks. There is a racism in the here and now but blackface that happened many generations ago doesn’t impact anything today. Unless that is, the author is just looking to agitate people around a hot button topic.

  71. In America racism is like water to a Goldfish you get to a point were you don't see it because it is everywhere. The Ignorant will respond it's no big thing they were just joking, it is the same response given to misogyny. One only needs to see how Teresa May is treated or Young Black men are shot down in the streets to see it's no joke. We have tryed to ignore these kinds of bigotry and at this point we should all know that does not work. Now the real crime is not the racist or bigoted thought, It is to not call it out, too not make the effort to uncover the poison. The true crime now is willful ignorance.

  72. "This debased depiction of blackness underwrote a white supremacist impulse that metastasized into every aspect of American life" Fairly sure that the racist attitudes would have existed without the blackface, the KKK wasn't lynching people because they were fired up by caricatures, the roots of racism in the US go back to slavery and the white power structure pitting poor whites against blacks, the same way that Trump villainizes Mexicans and Central Americans. I grew up in the UK and in the 70s we still had the Black and White Minstrel Show on TV and Robertson's Jams labels and marketing featured Golly a golliwog figure, children were encouraged to collect the little paper versions of Golly that came slipped into the label of the jam. At the same time we had the first black British comedian on TV Charlie Williams, whose act consisted in large part of jokes about the new Asian immigrants who were arriving in the country at the time in increasing numbers due to Idi Amin's throwing them out of Uganda. So you had the spectacle of a black man villainizing and mocking brown people on TV for being foreigners in order to get laughs. You can look him up on YouTube and see what I am referring to. It's not the caricatures it's the manipulation of opinion and the threat of losing economic and social status that motivates blackface and racism in general, not the other way around.

  73. Does the word "blackface" apply only to egregious insult described in the article? This is clearly and intentionally insulting and wrong. But what of the person who dons a Halloween costume of a black person, with no insult intended, and darkens their face as as a result? Yes, they do blacken their white face, but is that "blackface"? Megyn Kelly's big sin was lexical, not racist. She used the wrong word, and thereby allowed her acceptance of the latter to be misidentified as the former. Maybe what she described is not appropriate, but it does not rise to the level of the insulting, mocking behavior historical known as "blackface". On the other hand, that photo of the Gucci mask clearly looks like the minstrel show version of blackface. As such, it is a racial insult that should never be tolerated. Did anyone at Gucci get fired over it? Maybe Megyn Kelly's real mistake was to give her employers an excuse to fire her over ratings that dissatisfied them.

  74. Thanks, Brent, for pointing out a single Democratic governor and state, instead of the completely and openly racist Republican Party, of which you are a proud member. Great analysis!

  75. Today is the anniversary of the burning and fall of Richmond that ended the Confederacy. It’s fitting to note that on that day, as Richmond managed to set itself on fire by allowing sour mash to flow in the streets and alleys where documents and tobacco leaves were being burnt a gaggle of slavers put on a minstrel show to prove they didn’t fear the approaching northern army. In blackface they called themselves the Unbleached Theatre among other epithets, and while they sang and joked the city’s last judge had a black woman whipped for being freed. Old habits die slowly so that I am reminded on this All Fool’s Day what Faulkner warned: maybe in two thousand years America will cleanse the land of the blood slavery let run. But not before.

  76. Blessed are those who do not see yet believe. To those who believe in His name: who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

  77. The racist laws and culture that devalued African-Americans were studied by the Nazis was a model for other nations. "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" (2017) by James Q. Whitman reveals the horrible flow of ideas from America to Germany. Apartheid in South Africa also was influenced by America practice.

  78. I don't think this story is really representative of the issues important to black people, that are being discussed today in the black community. This is a "monocle" story -- making something out of nothing. Talk about Jussie Smollet, like black and white people in the middle of the country are. Talk about workers' issues, as black and whites confronting the issue of truly open borders are... But Aunt Jemima boxes, and the black man on the cream o' wheat box? This is indulging someone; it's not important to black people in the 21st century, and whoever tells you it is, is selling you something...

  79. This piece lays out much of the history to help people understand the bigoted history of ‘blackface’. Thank you for this. I think most people today don’t know it (I certainly didn’t until the recent uproar - had almost no familiarity with it other than perhaps old cartoons I had seen years ago.) I also think in order to help our current national tension it needs to be part of a much larger and more honest discussion. This discussion should include the use of racially charged and bigoted words such as the N-word (that I can’t use but apparently it is OK to put into hit songs that only some people can then sing?) the discussion also needs to include why it is OK to embrace openly bigoted leaders who speak for groups who are discriminated against. I mean the above sincerely. People are confused and the current way we are discussing it is not helping.

  80. What continues to amaze me is how many people I meet who accept the old stereotype as an accurate description of the black Americans that they have never met.

  81. Mr. Staples, I have read or observed your work since that oft-anthologized essay of yours that begins, “My first victim was a woman, white, well dressed,” etc. I used that a lot to show my students what a good intro looks like. Bad intro: In today’s society, we all wonder about various things. Your essay goes by various titles including Black Men in Public Spaces. So I appreciate your work, okay? However, let me ask you: Was I, as an innocent 4-year-old, a white supremacist for liking the Amos ‘n Andy TV show? I did not think poorly of black folks because of it. Andy wasn’t bright, but the Kingfish was sharp. The black actors were good. And re blackface, the Zulu carnival krewe uses blackface, though they are black. And when you confronted a panel of Southern writers, implying that the N word, though sounding “mellifluous” when written or uttered by blacks, should not be used by whites, these well known white writers didn’t quite get your point. Are they all white supremacists?

  82. White people need to own this history. The ignorance about blackface is not confined to the south (Megyn Kelly is a New Yorker). Next up - can we examine the history of using the capital letter K in commercial establishments (“Klassy Kar Kare “) which originated as a way to show sympathy with the Klan? I wonder if the Kardashians have ever given that a second thought.

  83. It seems to me that what your editorial fails to do is distinguish between blackface and someone who is not black dressing up as black. Blackface, by definition, is pretending to be black for the purpose of denigrating blacks. Dressing up as Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr. or Michael Jackson is very different. I am no fan of Megan Kelly but she has a point when political correctness has reached the point where dressing up as something that one is not is offensive per se.

  84. Thank you. I can only hope Stephens, brooks, Kristof, douhatt, and Bruni read this and may God give them shame for supporting an honorable platform for the racism of the odious Charles Murray.

  85. Birth of. nation can fairly be catagorized as the first blockbuster. Screened to white audiences in many all white areas of the country it may have been their first exposure to any African American. In that the portrayal was every negative stereotype, from evil rapists to lazy buffoon, one can only imagine the damage. Re-enforcing these stereotypes, was the power of the film itself over white viewers and the skill with which it was made. In it’s use of both dramatic montage editing and traditional heroic mythology, coupled with nostalgic reconciliation between white north and south, it pushed all the buttons. Hitler would learn well from this, and use Lenni Reifensthal and other filmmakers to turn out similiar fare, only it was jews instead of blacks. Birth of a Nation was first but wouldn’t be the last.

  86. The David O. Selznick vehicle, "Gone With The Wind" was so tremendously popular since it opened in the January of 1940. Its budget, according to Wiki, was $3.85-million dollars. Wiki further tells us that "Gone with the Wind" is the highest-grossing film of all time in Canada and the US: 202,110,200 estimated admissions." Who could be surprised? Ridicule always sells tickets. GWTW has been viewed by many African-Americans as an "updated" version of the D.W. Griffith travesty, "Birth Of A Nation." That film skirted the honesty of how that "nation" was indeed born: by the removal and near-genocide of the indigenous Americans, and, of course, by Reconstruction and Jim Crow. How a people are supposed to find safety, security, and reassurance of their worth and value when the majority culture has been conditioned to look down upon them as less than human beings is still being argued today. Affirmative action is misunderstood by millions of white people; since the Mayflower, they have "unknowingly" enjoyed their own affirmative action. The stereotypes in the Selznick-Victor Fleming production they attempted to romanticize in GWTW, reinforced white audiences' concept of their own superiority: Mammy, Pork, Missy, Big Sam. Any fool knows that they were merely props for the good white folks whose war was fought to maintain the status quo. To this day, the South believes that it was raped by the North and impregnated with the DNA of the unwanted, the interloper, the minstrel.

  87. If you want a hint as to why race relations in America are so rotten, read this article. The racist depiction of black culture through ads and minstrelsy, among other things, has helped to hardened the hearts of white America. They have created a stereotype so clear, so simple, and so wrong, yet it lives in the consciousness of our entire culture.

  88. Can you imagine how people in the rest of the world who deal with deadly racism daily think of the talk of blackface entertainers from more than 60 years ago. Surely they must laugh that some Americans think that blackface entertainment that has been gone for two generations is a grave threat to the nation.

  89. Definition of presentism: an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences Of all the prejudices of pundits, presentism is the strongest.— Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Are Liberals on the Wrong Side of History?," 20 Mar. 2017 Every critic today should beware of presentism: judging people from 50, 150, or 500 years ago based on today’s fragile sensitivities.— Deroy Murdock, National Review, "Monuments to Racist Democrats Should Enrage Leftist Mobs," 30 Aug. 2017

  90. The title should read “how blackface fed white supremacy”. I’m in my late 50’s, born and raised in the south, and lived most of my life there. Never saw blackface. Not once. I believe it lives on only in the minds of the racial grievance industry

  91. As a member of the "white working class" I have alwas'y considered blackface to be offensive. But the only time I notice blackface is when watching or reading the news. It seems to be an exploited issue. There has been no real outrage directed at liberal attack comics such as Behar, or Kimmel. But their actions are considered proof that I, and my class are racist. But the free pass they have been given, that flexibility of liberal outrage, means that blackface is even less offensive that it was before. And as an exploited issue it also feeds black separatism doesn't it Mr Staples.

  92. Megan Kelly was not talking about minstrel shows. She referred to adulation of Diana Ross and she darkened her skin to look like her. This is "interpretation creep" on the part of the author and those who caused Megan Kelly to be fired. You can't logically conflate her remarks about a Halloween costume choice with the old minstrel show blackface. I would hazard a guess that we will never see a resurgence of minstrel shows, so how about we give this a rest.

  93. We should remember that this country, rather than being founded on the principles of 'liberty and justice for all', was actually founded on the principles of (Afro-American) slavery and (Native American) genocide.

  94. Almost all doctors now in practice owe a large debt to the poor and persons of color from whom they learned their craft. Most medical schools are affiliated with hospitals which serve the poor and it was in these schools and hospitals we learned physical diagnosis and the procedures we use to treat everyone. It is a shame and a moral stain on our characters when we take that knowledge and flee to communities of privilege to care for the doyens of that privilege while leaving the marginalized to their fate. Blackface is just the tip of the iceberg (or perhaps just the tip of the KKK hat).

  95. The old examples are still with us - every sitcom that trivializes black people as inept bumblers or gangster types too cool for school. I challenge casting agencies to do what my uncle did when he changed parties to Democrat from GOP - after he married our smart Aunt Barbara - he started emailing out popular dumb blonde jokes but would change the blonde woman to a brunette man. His enlightened reasoning: if the switch sounds belittling and offensive - then you know you're wrong, and you need to get somebody smarter, like Aunt Barbara, to correct you.

  96. continued... And if the standard for judging racist culture is the the “devaluation of blackness“, where does that put today's Black Rap acts that often portray Black culture as just super sexist and violent? Sure there were elements of racism in Black Face humor. But looking back on American culture as it developed, all racial and ethnic groups were made fun of. That would include Germans, Irish, Chinese, Yankees, Jewish people and others. The Minstrel Show wasn’t just a put down of Black people, it also contained a talent section, the “Olio” where real proficiency on Black instruments like the Banjo were demonstrated. This later became known as Vaudeville and evolved into Bluegrass Music. And of course the whole story of Black composers and performers in high class entertainment on Broadway began with the burnt cork. Decry the racism for what it was but don’t reject the entire history of the Minstrel Show. It’s the story of America growing up. If we have an inter-racial culture today it’s because of this coming together of cultures. Those of us who have studied American entertainment culture are proud to celebrate the ascendency of Black performers. That is the justice that came out of the Minstrel Show.

  97. I misread Bret Staples as Bret Stephens and I got concerned about the immanent collapse of reality. Then I saw the picture and read this excellent piece on racist ideology and culture. Loved it. Let's see a companion piece on the so called "science of human diversity" which is a more respectable form of blackface.

  98. A society that denigrates others misunderstands the power and need for unity, organization and betterment for all (sociality). There is nothing more stupid than not using maximum of human talent opportunity-wise, wellbeing-wise and for global competition. Today, now, with a globally competitive landscape it is evident that racism is likely the most destructive form of "shooting oneself between the eye", as society -- in the whole --- is the (GDP). A troop or group or cluster of white people (alone) cannot compete on the world stage. Essentially, whiteness is long gone idea, ideal and a one-way path into irrerevance. The spoilages of white supremacist can be viewed in many backward racist townships where the white children play in abandoned cars and broken-down house-trailer.

  99. Many cultural trends started with African-American talent and creativity. Take jazz. Many white musicians attempted to emulate, somewhat to a lesser quality, a black style of music. White people who only listened to "Dixieland" may have not felt comfortable listening to black musicians play. The public couldn't cross the color line, but entertainers brought what was desired by the audience to them: attempts to perform in a black idiom a type of entertainment more full of "soul" than what white performers could give. Putting blackface on was part of the set-up for the premise of the style--an imitation. Sure, sometimes it was grotesque, but not always. Al Jolson may be the most "soulful" entertainer of his time, and he did it assuming a black character as an actor. My grandfather, Al Snyder, was a prominent entertainer in New Haven around the turn of the 20th century. We have countless clippings of his famous shows, and his activities in many social organizations. He often wore blackface. I never knew him; I don't his feelings on race. I take umbridge at calling my respected ancestor some kind of "racist", when nobody here asked him about if he was. We've had serious crimes against African-Americans in the past. We weren't alive to stop it, but we should acknowledge it and try to make up for it. Blackface was a not flattering phase of the entertainment world, but it should not be considered the root of a problem. It's done, anyway!

  100. The next columns should address the issue of black power.

  101. My work experience corroborates Brent Staples assertion that Minstrel Caricatures live on in American culture long after they are no longer seen and heard everyday. I helped train Black men and women who were Broker trainees in the 1990.s. Their greatest frustration was that very wealthy Blacks did not want to give them a chance at all, not even buying CD's or TBills. Those prospects thought of a caricature of a con man when they called, even though most of them had NEVER heard or seen the caricature -- and the caricature was created by a White man in the 1920's. Amos and Andy went off TV and radio more than 60 years ago, but the KINGFISH character -- and caricature -- lives on. I advised the brokers to (selectively) speak to prospects in a Kingfish voice in order to identify if that was the objection; usually that's what it was.

  102. This crazy obsession with blackface is going to get Donald Trump reelected. Seriously people, can we just stop the self - flagellating victimization narrative? It's wearing very thin among good people of all races...

  103. I am disgusted by the clown picture at the start of this article. I expect more from the Times. How could anyone publish a racist image of a clown. Horrible. I’m so angry.

  104. Thank you for this article, Mr. Stapels. Deeply moving---and a little sickening! I used to play the piano with a string bass player. A young woman. We toured small venues around town, playing rags by Scott Joplin. The master of ragtime! My friend had an immense collection of rags. All bound in one big paperback. This book reproduced original covers--from 1900, say. Or 1910. Or whenever. They apologized for the crudity of these drawings. But their goal was: realize what black people were up against a hundred years ago. Recognize the odious stereotypes. Recognize the hateful thinking BEHIND the stereotypes. One sticks in my mind. Shows a party of black people out hunting something at night. One guy (in the picture) a little older than the rest. Need I point out--the guy looked like a halfwit? But there was an explanatory paragraph tacked on. To the effect: these people were out hunting FOOD. "Cause they didn't HAVE a lot of food back then--not even when preparing a Thanksgiving feast or a Christmas wingding. Oh that paragraph was delicately worded. Very gentle--very discreet. Tactfully reminding any white purchaser of that music that-- --your "minstrels", your "entertainers"-- --were not the BEST-FED people in these United States. Not by a long shot! As who should say, "We're still PEOPLE too. "Aren't we? "Blackface or no blackface."

  105. King Kong and Tarzan are more insidious and more subtle representations of black bestiality and white supremacy prevalent in media than minstrel shows. The subtle but powerful racism of both characterizations rationalizes attitudes of hate and fear. Images of entertainers in blackface are available but King Kong and Tarzan are current marketing entities.

  106. It’s been 1960 since anyone wore blackface publicly. Three generations. A guy in blackface and one dressed as a KKK member drinking beer together, at a frat party. See how well we get along? It was a joke. Poor taste? Sure, but not an indication of racism on the part of the doctor four decades later. Who has done nothing since to indicate any sort of race bias. Half of the Black people in the US are middle class. You’d never know it from reading the Times. How about looking at why African-American SAT scores are so horribly low? It’s not due to biased questions. The average scores in AP classes amongst Blacks is a D. For whites it’s a C. Asians? It’s a B. Is that due to pro-Asian bias? How much television do students watch? Directly correlates with test scores. Time spent studying? Same correlation. Is there still racism out there? Certainly. Any idea how many old, single, Japanese men worked as gardeners in the 60’s in California? Japanese women were usually refused immigration. Because of racism. But they succeeded anyway. There is no “majority race” in California. And we’re doing okay. There are plenty of hard working, very smart Black people who are doing just fine. A certain former president comes to mind. Claiming that white racism is the reason you can’t succeed just does not work any more.

  107. I have a question: what is the difference between doing "blackface" and doing "drag"? Consider your answer carefully, then discuss. Would LOVE to hear your comments.

  108. My complaint about this article is not about it's quality nor it's content, but rather the repeated related articles that keep showing up on the opinion pages. I found this problem to be similar when it came to Mammy Jars and similar racial tainted items. Multiple articles about a similar topic in a short period of time. To the NYTimes Editors: Isn't there something more important your talented journalists could work on? How about a middle school survey on what NYC 8th graders think of the high school entrance exams? Feedback from Black students and Latino students could be very helpful.

  109. Cue the rationalizers, the explainers, and the apoligizers in the Comments section of so-called liberal and "enlightened" NYT readers. I wonder how many of them would find Nazi anti-Semitic memoriabilia acceptable (I do not), and would be happy to know it was being distributed and collected? Would they go so far as to deny its racist content and disturbing legacy? Then why can't they do that with their OWN legacy of lethal white supremacy? Isn't this what we see on the news daily, every time a white police officer is acquited for murdering a black man who was sleeping in his car, walking down the street, or merely existing? It's genuinely hard to say what is more disturbing: the images in the article (and the links show there is still a very thriving market for this memorabilia), or the denial, verging on self-willed blindness, in so many of the comments.

  110. @Person You see it clearly. Excellent comment. Their first reaction is always sanctimony. Who, us? We condemn it. Condemn, I tell you! Later, and as they think others will no longer remember what it's all about, they start softening their position, as planned: it wasn't so bad - compared to what, the Vietnam War? It was a different time. A different place. Let's not be unfair. In other words: their true colors come out.

  111. One of the hardest tasks for humans is to “see” ourselves. If “we” members could only get beyond our tribal blinders and rationalizations that quickly censor what “we” see and read! But to do that requires genuine humility and an openness to listen to “others.” We are “saved” by those wise enough, strong enough and compassionate enough to hold a mirror up to us.

  112. Excellent...

  113. Exactly no one in 2019 outside a minute lunatic fringe thinks blackface is an appropriate way to present or mock black people. And no black person today should let themselves be defined or held back by such historical stupidity and malevolence. Life is short enough without carrying the burdens of self-imposed limitations on your potential.

  114. The fact that so many whites respond with "get over it, why do you keep dredging up the past?" type responses shows we really haven't evolved from our racist past as much as we would like. In fact, even now, half of white Americans believe blacks have it better than they do in this country. They blame Affirmative Action, the process of trying to undo 300 years of racist policies in this country, as being unfairly detrimental to their advancement. Despite overwhelming evidence that blacks are still questioned, arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced at far higher rates than whites. Despite evidence that schools, jobs, and even grocery stores in black neighborhoods make it harder for them to improve their situation in life. We have a president who routinely makes racist and discriminatory comments about "Mexicans" (defined as anybody who lives south of the Rio Grande regardless of nationality), Muslims, foreigners, etc. on a daily basis. I would be willing to bet Trump could demand black Americans be deported back to Africa against their will, and his rallies would erupt in enthusiastic applause. So there is still some work to do.

  115. Mr. Staples, What a powerful, and insightful opinion piece you have written here! This should be required reading in all elementary, High Schools and Colleges in this country for the next 20 years at least. I remember in grade school being taught the ," Reasons for the Civil War", and putting an end to slavery was never mentioned. States Rights was then the correct answer. I want to send your article to everyone I know, but that would be preaching to the choir. The people who should read this probably never will. I applaud you Sir!

  116. As a white woman in my late 80s who has been involved for all my adult live in anti-racism, social justice and human rights activities, I applaud the NYT publishing the editorial, "How Blackface Feeds White Supremacy." While hoping that many readers take it seriously and change their attitudes and behaviors, I also recommend a book I have just read, "Between The World And Me" by well-known, superb writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose "profound work . . . pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son." It is personally and historically revealing, and "offers a transcendent vision for a way forward." ((quotes from book jacket).

  117. Minstrel music was the first American pop music and dominated for generations. Stephen Foster dominated music more than the Beatles or Elvis. I wonder if much of the Minstrel show's appeal was that whites could hear the great music made by blacks distilled through white musicians while avoiding contact with the African Americans. The equivalent of Pat Boone covering Little Richard.

  118. @feanole The answer is no. Until the genre became profitable for black performers to participate, the dances and songs originated with white men who built their prejudices into the material. "Come from Alabammy with a banjo on my knee". There is slave testimony that avers there were no banjos. White invention.

  119. The same argument and history cited here is applicable to the “N word,” likely way more so. Yet, the N word is thrown around incessantly, in black social circles and popular culture. As I understand it, the argument there is that it no longer carries the extremely negative connotations it once did. Why blackface is different I don’t know.

  120. Because black people aren't doing blackface. White people are. Seems simple enough to me.

  121. Good points. Now how about encouraging black people to stop using the "n" word which implicitly gives license to white people to continue to use it as well?

  122. Yes to all of this, but please don't leave out Redface, which refers to non-Indians dressing up as Natives, and for whatever reason doesn't get the same scorn heaped upon it when it's discovered. In fact, Redface is seen all the time at sporting events, and some of the same black people who would scream through the roof if they saw someone with red red lips and faces painted black have no problem putting on face paint, war bonnets, and doing the tomahawk chop (or dressing a green Indians in front of tipis like OutKast at the Grammy awards). So forgive me if I withhold my outrage.

  123. Lets' not confine blackface to America. Blackface is also considered popular entertainment in Mexico. Some of their most popular entertainment uses blackface caricatures. The Netherlands has Black Pete, the origins which are murky. Protest from recent immigrants may put Black Pete up the chimney. The sad fact that someone as ignorant as Megyn Kelly made her way up to the top of the food chain at NBC makes you wonder what's next.

  124. I wish the NYTimes, Mr. Staples in particular, spent as much time in addressing the exceedingly high black homicide rate and the remarkably low black workforce participation rate as he does the universally condemned practice of wearing black face. Using its resources, the paper could combat the social ills that especially plague the black community and our nation at large. More so than black face, the high crime and economic despair of the inner city black community feed the evils of white supremacy, informing their evil racist diatribes.

  125. Thank you for the powerful and important reveal of America’s shameful history that created white supremacy and allowed it to thrive.

  126. Some of the responses here correctly point out that most of us born after the middle 50’s have never seen a blackface show. Yet we did see, if we’re able & willing to remember, a host of racist depictions of African Americans in film & on television well into current times. The same can be said of women, Asians & gays. It takes some effort to see what’s been in front of our noses, & it might take even more effort to see what’s not been shown, but if we’re ever really going to move on, it’s work that needs to be done.

  127. Mr.Staples -- You may not remember the movie Tropic Thunder, released in 2008, which features Robert Downey Jr in blackface, but the New York Times reviewed it on August 12,2008. I mention this because I think it's important to note that while most people rightfully consider the wearing of blackface completely unacceptable today, it wasn't considered that way as recently as 2008, by the very newspaper for which you work. Here's the part of the review that covers the blackface: "There's a lot of bait-and-switch throughout 'Tropic Thunder,' including its use of blackface, which, along with the promiscuous deployment of the word retard, has earned it much of its advance publicity. Though Mr. Downey's character, who has undergone a skin-darkening procedure to play his part, has been cut from moldy Fred Williamson cloth, he's also the most recognizably human character in a lampoon rife with caricatures. ... "What's most notable about the film's use of blackface is how much softer it is compared to the rather more vulgar and far less loving exploitation of what you might call Jewface. ..." Mr. Staples, where was the outrage over the use of blackface in the movie? Considering that even the NYT didn't register much opposition to it, maybe you will concede that opinions have changed and what is considered outrageously inappropriate today, doesn't seem to have registered much criticism from the NYT as few as ten years ago.

  128. The blackface scandal has led me to explore the issue a bit… Watching The Jazz Singer online, starring Al Jolson is fascinating...Jolson applies blackface indifferently, as if the make-up is an obligatory convention that really doesn't inform his performance at all...there is no overt intention to parody/mock black folks or does Jolson show ANY awareness of black culture at all beyond a few lyrics... Jolson applying blackface seems no more significant than Elvis putting some grease in his hair before a rock n roll show…Blackface seems like a meaningless convention in the Jazz Singer...utterly unnecessary as we do see Jolson perform without blackface in some scenes...Strange that someone didn't notice in 1927 how ABSURD the blackface style seemed...

  129. It is time for the federal government, the entity most responsible for slavery after 1787, and subsequently for Jim Crow style legal discrimination, to pay up. But, but, but, my Irish forebears survived Ireland's Great Famine, created by England's "Irish Solution," and subsequent legal discrimination against Catholics as virile as Jim Crow in their home in Northern Ireland. Why should we have to pay for the sins we didn't commit? Of course my forebears and I have prospered from America's institutions and infrastructure build on riches legally stolen from black Americans. But, but. but, we did nothing ourselves to harm our African-American brothers and sisters or profit from their oppression. We owe anyone anything! This "I didn't do it," "We shouldn't have to pay with our taxes for the sins of others." are the greatest stumbling blocks to America ever making good for its government's critical role in black oppression. NED'S PLAN for paying substantial reparations to all of the descendants of American slaves, as well as to members of American Indian tribes who had their land taken by force or fraud by the federal government leaps all o f those stumbling blocks and makes the payment of such reparations not just feasible but desirable and profitable for every American.

  130. When you look at history of blackface minstrelsy, it’s clear why it appealed to white audiences. Entertainment as a comforting reminder of where you stand in the pecking order.

  131. Mickey Rooney also gave the world one of cinema's most egregious instances of Yellowface as Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

  132. Forget Black Face. It is an absolute non issue. I matters to no one. Instead, concentrate on educating EVERYONE to their maximum and everything else will take care of itself.

  133. Stop. You are not the man to call out this reality in these terms. You have to ask yourself is this leading to justice and healing or making a point?