How Blackface Feeds White Supremacy

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

Comments: 31

  1. Blackface doesn't "haunt" America. Indeed, it is embraced by America and we are regularly tipped off about how embraced it is. The anecdotes about Megyn Kelly, Gucci, Prada, Katy Perry and their alleged ignorance are just part of that heinous tapestry of phony apologies and mea culpas to help the blackface embracers shield, defend themselves them from possible public disdain. Though, I revere Brent Staples, I wonder why he decided to write this piece. But I luv the pictures and the graphics as hideous as they are and some of us on the front line of going head to head with White Supremacy in our daily lives may find ways to use the graphics and pics to deal with our realities. whites

  2. Should be required reading in junior high school—if not earlier.

  3. Blackface has nothing to do with white supremacy. Yes, it is/was crude, irreverent and without doubt a racial slur but it is not a signature act of white nationalism or white supremacy. I'm white and almost 72. I don't live in a bubble or look at the world through rose colored glasses. I believe I have heard every African American racial taunt and bigoted speech that is possible. Just the other day I witnessed a terrible racial outburst directed at an elderly African American man who was verbally abused by a white racist/bigot who was upset having to walk around smashed fruit on the ground and wanted the old man to clean it up. The litany of vile racial hatred was disgusting. The old man was stunned and afraid. So was I. I was embarrassed and filled with pain. I've seen and heard other outrageous hatred directed at blacks but I have never seen black face used by anyone to taunt, cajole or instill fear in blacks. I didn't see it in high school, the army, college or at any place I worked or traveled in all these decades. More importantly I have never heard anyone ever offer that black face should be worn because it would intimidate or denigrate blacks. In fact I never heard from even the worst racists I've known, offer up black face for anything. Black face makes me uncomfortable. I've seen it in the movies and now and then on TV. Outside of those media modes I have never, ever seen it nor has any individual or group I've known ever suggested its use. Blackface is DOA.

  4. @Jay I can't tell you how many black people are emboldened by all this racism talk - i have been called every name in the book by black people.

  5. @Jay Funny, I'm white, 10 years younger than you, live in the North and all my life I've seen so much blackface/racist imagery, much of it legacy, that I could make a list as long as your arm.

  6. You know Mr. Staples I am perfectly aware of the history of black face and don’t feel the slightest bit guilty about it. Your constant whining has become tiresome and cured me of my White Guilt. What’s the point? Someone on TV says something you don’t agree with or you find a 30-year-old picture and we all must be blamed once again for a past we had nothing to do with. I am sorry you can’t come to terms with the past, but may you should try. Liberal guilt tripping will never end racism, if you haven’t notice it has created a tribal backlash that has turned more white people to Trump. I love my country and I love its past and prefer to celebrate how far we have come. And I am tired of being reminded of the things we have overcome. It doesn't mean things are perfect but they are more perfect than they have ever been. I recently saw Elizabeth Warren pander to an African American and apologize because there has never been an apology from the government for racism when in fact there has been one. In 2008 the House and the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans. So, you see it doesn’t matter if we apologize you just forget about it and go right on guilt tripping. Admit it Mr. Staples you really like doing it. If we are ever going to move to an America without racism, we will need to find a new way to talk about race and our past. It is obvious you and the Times don’t know what that way is. .

  7. @Benjamin Greco agreed - bravo!!

  8. The devaluation of blackness plays out from the mortality rates of black patients to the mortality rates of unarmed black citizens killed by law enforcement. Hence the 21st century "I am a Man" declaration of "Black Lives Matter". It is the same struggle.

  9. Our school put on a black and white minstrel show when I was about 10: boys in blackface, girls as southern belles. Everyone singing the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Of course, the show is no longer mentioned when the school trot out their theatrical achievements. The culture of forgetting is a pernicious as the distorted caricatures.

  10. This opinion article in today's Wall Street Journal is far more thought provoking than Mr. Staples column. It is completely justifiable to blame and lament. But why continue to do so? There is no benefit for anyone. There are solutions if we want them. I urge NYTimes readers to hold open minds and read Shelby Steele's "The Right and the Moral High Ground - Today minorities suffer from underdevelopment, not racism."

  11. As long as we are discussing how blackface is racism, please include the football league and owners of the Washington “Redskins” use of tokenism. I’ve seen fans with their bodies painted red, wearing headdresses. Native Americans do not want this display of racism either.

  12. Though some unfortunate few never will, most scientific authorities tell us that every single person on the planet is descended from black Africans, the skin color a necessary adaptation to strong sunlight in the absence of protective fur. The origins in Africa of all modern humans are clear, proven, accepted -- and skin whiteness merely an adaptation to weaker sunlight at higher latitudes when people migrated out of the continent. Our large brains came from Africa.

  13. The struggle to get pigmentation's influence out of our souls is as real as Mr. Staples's article. You can not research St. Augustine without being quietly influenced in the wrong direction by some publishers cover art. The evil of racism is why we could not have Colin Powell and other previous greats as our President. Bill Grace is a Google Poet living in San Antonio, Texas.

  14. The refusal of White Americans to recognize how half of our citizens, perhaps more, harbor racist sentiments is disturbing. Pundits argue that Trump's success is based on economic, or social, or religious factors. It is not. It is all about race. Obama's election horrified many voters who believed we could never have a Black President. Blackface is just one example of racial denigration by Whites. I am convinced that if Trump held fast to every one of his policies except race, his re-election would be doomed. If he announced support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and affirmative action, and integration, and for equal voting opportunities for Blacks and other programs to benefit Blacks while continuing his economic, environmental, social and foreign policies his base would abandon him. Polarization in America is all about race. It is time we recognize true levels of racism and address the problem.

  15. Lest we not forget Michael Jackson in whiteface. Show biz is the last place we should look to for daily guidance.

  16. @John Doe Agreed. I'll pop if I read another commenter use the plot of a Hollywood movie or TV show to make a point, as if that's real life.

  17. @John Doe: Blackface in showbiz is not guidance--it's a reflection of what amuses people.

  18. Oh please, can't we talk about something serious - like educating our future citizens or our nations' infrastructure build - not some 17th-18th-19th century activity. While it was 'racist' in those times, we ought to have moved on from them. What's next - banish Halloween, do not allow sporting teams to have nicknames, segregation by gender, religion, or ethnicity? Will that satisfy everyone? Anyone? I think not. How about an article series on America's lost sense of humor ... except for the comedians who wish to degrade our government, culture, and society.

  19. yes, blackface is offensive, but racial profiling and redlining much more so. is racism symbolic? not where it becomes economic. but racism can trade in symbols. is it too much to ask whites not to laugh at blackface? i dunno, is it too much to ask college educated blacks not to "aks" a question? sure, it's just a language trope that signifies the person is prideful of black culture. and good on them for that. but it's also an overt signal that race matters to them, which makes it awkward to expect that it shouldn't matter to me. yes, "aks" doesn't mock white culture the way blackface mocks black dignity. but we seem enmeshed in a cultural moment where it's all about the flags of virtue we choose to wave and we find microaggressions to wave them on. let's call out blackface for what it is if it is used now, and just let go of a past when it was a style of entertainment in a much simpler time. tell me more about racial profiling, redlining, police brutality, children in poverty, educational access and job discrimination. we still have work to do there.

  20. The author gives an excellent lesson on the history of "black face". What I object to, however, is the way the so-called "woke" people transfer guilt from past periods to individuals today based on skin color. This is insane, the grievance and revenge chain will never end (see history, just think of any people in any country and you will find reason for them to hate other people for injustices committed by their ancestors ). We need to learn from history, not repeat it. We may not be color-blind and we may never be, but this should be the goal of the discourse.

  21. I appreciate this thoughtful article. However there seems to be a collective amnesia or blind eye when it comes to the most ubiquitous of all minstrel characters: our beloved Mickey Mouse. Nicholas Sammond’s erudite opus “Birth of an Industry” lays out the case clearly but unnecessarily: Mickey’s Mellerdrammer demonstrates of it’s own volition what is clear as day: Mickey is an expression of a racist past. A blackface minstrel. And yet, crickets...

  22. Behavior promoting racial stereotypes is not funny or harmless. It dehumanizes people created in God's image & is therefore not only evil but blasphemous.

  23. If there is a universal human trait, it's racism.

  24. You should recall that when an African-American Republican, Michael Steele, ran for the U.S. Senate, a liberal blogger put mistrel make-up on one of his photos and attached racist comments. And of course, Maryland Senate President, Thomas V. "Mike" Miller infamously called Steele an Uncle Tom. But hey, it's not really racism when the Democrats do it to a Republican.

  25. when are we going to stop calling Black Friday Black Friday? That has to stop. It makes it sound like that day is bad because it's black. Let's get started on that! i've got more black things to outlaw and ban too but one at a time.

  26. Blackface has a more nuanced history, than just white people darkening their skin to perform in theaters. There were also successful black minstrel shows with all black performers who darkened their skin, to entertain both black and white audiences. Their excellent and vibrant musical talents, appealed to white theater goers, just as if did to black spectators. I don't like blackface at all. I can't look at a photograph of Al Jolson whose makeup just looks grotesque to me. However, It is hard to forget Ted Danson's blackface routine, replete with the use of the "N" word, which Danson's then girlfriend, Whoopi Goldberg, found quite funny at the time. Granted it was in 1993, but I have always been baffled as to why Ms. Goldberg encouraged Mr. Danson, to perform such a bizarre and offensive routine.

  27. Now I know where the term Jim Crow comes from, but that won't help in the least as I counter ignorant neighbors around me who make nasty, bigoted remarks about the few middle-class black families who have moved into our neighborhood in the past three years. It's really sad that so many white people believe their only status comes from being "better" than people of color.

  28. Why is everything – everything!! – imbued with accusations of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, etc? Everyone is treated badly at some time or another, sometimes often. Thus everyone today has a platform. It becomes increasingly tiresome. Please, oh please just stop so we can try to get along again and have a laugh or two.

  29. I find nary a mention of all the grotesque representations of Obama sent out as cartoons and greeting cards by GOP members. Obama as witch doctor, complete with grass skirt and bone through his nose, I think of the judges and lawyers who exchanged the ugliest of stories about his mother. I surely hope no one puts Staples in charge of a drone assassination program. Duck everyone!

  30. White washing blackface tests the limits of irony.