Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.


TW, as per usual for these things, for discussion of present and past racism.

This post is responding to comments on my earlier post Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW. This post goes into the historical context of blackface.

First, a disclaimer. I am not an expert on this stuff by any means. I am simply a person with a reasonable background in things like social science and intersectionality, who does her best to be an ally and have a fair idea of this stuff. I haven’t- until this past few days- spent a huge amount of time reading up on the history of minstrels and representation of POC. I just had the usual level of background awareness of this stuff that you get from being a person interacting with people. When it comes to the historical specifics, though, I’m just learning. Which is important, because everything I know is stuff that you can find out if, as I advised in my last post, you just google it.

Right. Let’s get started. We’ve got a lot to get through. I’m going to be talking a lot about context, symbolism and history. I’m also going to be linking to a lot of other places. Because this is such a big, complicated issue I’d encourage you strongly to read them. I know that this is the internet and we’re stuck on tl;dr. But this is important. If you really, really can’t stand to spend 10-15 minutes reading a few posts, though, scroll down and you’ll find a tl;dr.

I’ve been hearing a lot over the past few days from people wondering what’s the harm in dressing up as a POC and painting/colouring your face to match that person’s skin tone. Especially at Halloween, when we dress up as all sorts of things. It seems bizarre that something that’s so obviously just a bit of fun could get people so upset and angry. It seems unfair that someone should be vehemently attacked when there was almost certainly no malicious intent behind what they did.

So what, precisely, is going on here? Let’s start with a quick history lesson.

and to find out, you’ll have to pop on over to the Tea Cosy’s new home. 

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14 thoughts on “Blackface Follow-up: Why it really is That Bad: a history of blackface.

  1. Pingback: Hey, Ireland! Let’s talk about racism. Here. NOW. | Consider the Tea Cosy

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  5. Is blackface different to say, Jerry Lewis portraying an idiotic man/child ? Nobody shouted that it was an insult to idiots and was greviously offensive to them and should be banned simply because we were laughing at such a portrayal. Nobody complains about a whitefaced mime because they have the palor of someone who has been institutionalised all their life, so why should black people be a special case ? People should be less uptight and enjoy is as a vehicle for singing and dancing entertainment rather than look upon it as intentionally nasty racism.

  6. I understand the history and the emotion behind peoples beliefs on this subject. If someone paints their face a darker color to portray a darker skin toned character (whether its cos-play, at Halloween, or your kid wants to be his/her favorite character on tv) I still don’t see a problem with that. I don’t think that painting ones body or face to portray someone of different skin tone is directly connected to nor should it be tarnished by the “black face” that was. I think there is a difference and a distinction should be made from someone portraying “black face” and someone with lighter skin trying to portray their favorite character from TV.

    I also want to add that if you know you will offend a friend or people by dressing up as such, I think it would be tactful to refrain from dressing up like that. But the action in itself is not wrong IMO.

    • The problem with that, though, is that history isn’t actually gone away. We don’t live in a magical era, disconnected from a racist past. Racism, white supremacy, all of it- it’s still here. We can’t act as if there’s no racist overtones to acts which POC find hurtful and humiliating, when we haven’t actually managed to deal with the racism everywhere else.

      • You’re right. That’s a huge problem. I can look past a practice that started in the 1830’s. We’re riding in cars now and reading under light bulbs but if blackface is still offensive, then it’s still offensive.

        • Yes, it is still offensive.

          People wore shoes in the 1830s. They still wear shoes now. People were damaged by racism in the 1830s. They’re still being damaged by racism now.

  7. I think this critique could be extended to golliwog dolls as well. I’ve had a tough time as a US expat in New Zealand trying to explain to well-meaning folk why these things are offensive.

  8. If I were to continue with your same logic, don’t you think Drag Queens are meant to portray women as a whole in the same way as black face? Women have been abused, segregated, had their rights infringed long before black people and it still continues today. Just like black people, women were not allowed to perform so there were men that portrayed their roles ie castrati. Women whether their skin color is white, black, brown, pink, whatever have all been discriminated against in the social world as well as professionally. Drag queens just like Blackface show a depiction of women which is a caricature of womens stereotypes portraying a blown up image of what is considered sexy for women in America.

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  10. Pingback: Julie Burchill and trans women.

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