Blackface: History And Legacy

Blackface: History And Legacy

The history of blackface and how it influenced race relations today
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Alright kids! So I had some serious writer’s block and couldn’t decide what to write about, so I flipped a coin to decide. It landed on tails, so now I have to do an article on a serious and relevant topic, so in light of this, I decided to do it on a very controversial topic: race. More specifically, I’ve decided to do it on “blackface,” an act in which white Americans would put on makeup and portray African Americans in various forms of media. The act of blackface helped to perpetuate many stereotypes about African Americans that still exist today. Blackface has a long and foul history, so sit down and buckle up, because we’re going on an adventure through time.

Blackface first began in the 1820s at the start of the era of minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were shows put on by white people wearing blackface and consisted of comedy skits, dancing and music. They usually portrayed blacks as lazy, dim-witted, buffoonish, superstitious and musical. As minstrel shows gained increased popularity over the course of the 19th century, the portrayal of blacks in these shows caused Americans to form distinct stereotypes about African Americans and most people expected blacks to conform to at least one of these stereotypes. These include the “mammy,” the motherly figure who was the core of plantation families; the “dandy,” who was a northern black man who attempted to mimic white, upper-class dress and speech to no avail; and the “Buck,” a large black man who is proud, sometimes menacing, and usually chases after white women. Makeup for blackface usually consisted of a layer of burnt cork over cocoa butter (substituted with black grease paint in later years) and red or white lips painted around their mouths. Costumes were gaudy combinations of formal wear and performers usually spoke in a “plantation” dialect. Entertainment included imitating black music and dance as well as a variety of jokes, skits and songs that were based on stereotypes of black slaves. In early years, minstrel shows were used to romanticize slavery and portrayed slaves as simple and cheerful, always ready to please their master. Overtime, they became a source of cheap entertainment at the expense of black people.

By the start of World War I, minstrel shows had mostly died out, but by then, blackface began to see its way into other forms of media, notably movies. Perhaps one of the most notable acts of blackface in film was D.W. Griffith’s "The Birth of a Nation". The film portrayed African Americans (played by white men wearing blackface) as unintelligent and aggressive towards women. Later, blackface was used by the star of "The Jazz Singer," who portrayed a Jewish performer using blackface to perform jazz songs on stage. Blackface took shape in many other forms over the course of the first half of the 20th century. The radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy, whose popularity resulted in a subsequent television show, saw actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll don blackface and speak in exaggerated, stereotypical voice characterizations. Many cartoons during this time, dubbed the “golden age of animation,” featured many of the same racist stereotypes that find their roots in minstrel shows. Walt Disney, for example, released "Fantasia" in 1940 and "Song of the South" in 1946. "Fantasia" had to have several shots cut from "The Pastoral Symphony" due to the fact that these shots featured racist stereotypes while "Song of the South" was flat out called racist due to the poor way it portrayed race relations in the post-Civil War south. Movies, television, and radio all apparently endorsed blackface and poor stereotypes of blacks during this time, with very few efforts beyond protests by the NAACP being made to stop it.

“Okay,” I hear you saying, “but that was then, right? Blackface was a big thing back then, but that isn’t an issue with television now, right?” Well, not exactly. The Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s resulted in blackface in being banned from television, especially after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 eliminated “separate but equal” laws. However, the stereotypes that were created and endorsed by blackface entertainment would have a lasting effect. For example, shows such as "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Jeffersons" incorporated various stereotypes that were popular during the minstrel era, such as coons and mammies. Also, the 70s saw the rise of a genre of film known as “Blacksploitation” films. Such films often centered on a black anti-hero with a supporting cast consisting of stereotypes of pimps, whores, and criminals and most, if not all, were African American. The antagonists of said shows were usually white cops or politicians who were corrupt and exploited poor black communities. These films received huge backlash from African American community leaders, arguing that they were offensive and were a major reason that blacks were still oppressed during this time, and by 1980 the entire genre had died as a result. But what about today? Well, even today, television and movies still seem to capitalize off of black stereotypes. "The Cleveland Show," for example, has been criticized for pretty much being "Family Guy" in blackface that played on negative black stereotypes for humor. Similarly, Tyler Perry shows and movies are sometimes criticized for utilizing these same stereotypes. Perry’s most famous character, Madea, is based on the “mammy” stereotype, for example. Characters from shows such as "House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns" also incorporate blackface stereotypes.

So we’ve talked about blackface as portrayed on T.V. and movies, but what about in real life? Blackface is a very relevant topic and one of the most controversial. In today’s context, the actual use of blackface is used to mock and belittle African Americans and is seen by most, if not all, people in the black community as one of the highest forms of insults, second probably only to the n-word. But besides the actual act of blackface, the legacy left by it is a major issue today. Remember, minstrel shows back in the 19th and early 20th century gave many whites their first glimpse into black culture and helped set the ground for many of the stereotypes surrounding black culture up to the present day. The “mammy” stereotype, for example, has become the overbearing, strict, no-nonsense maternal figure. Even if some stereotypes have died down, new ones have taken their place. These include stereotypes about gang-bangers, drug addicts, and the ever popular “kid who never knew his dad” stereotype. If you’re black, then you must know at least 3 guys in a gang, you must come from the hood and you just must love rap music. You probably smoke weed, you probably drink Hennessey and you probably stole that watch you’re wearing. These are all stereotypes that can find their roots in the stereotypes that were originally created as a result of blackface.

Look, I know that the issue of race is a touchy subject, but it’s something that needs to be talked about. Blackface is an issue that has left a lasting legacy over the last two centuries. If we ever hope to move forward as a nation and as a species as a whole, we must learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. History doesn’t have to repeat itself if we don’t let it. And so ends our history lesson. I hope we all learned something from this.

Cover Image Credit: Vinyl Me, Please

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30 Things I'd Rather Be Than 'Pretty'

Because "pretty" is so overrated.
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Nowadays, we put so much emphasis on our looks. We focus so much on the outside that we forget to really focus on what matters. I was inspired by a list that I found online of "Things I Would Rather Be Called Instead Of Pretty," so I made my own version. Here is a list of things that I would rather be than "pretty."

1. Captivating

I want one glance at me to completely steal your breath away.

2. Magnetic

I want people to feel drawn to me. I want something to be different about me that people recognize at first glance.

3. Raw

I want to be real. Vulnerable. Completely, genuinely myself.

4. Intoxicating

..and I want you addicted.

5. Humble

I want to recognize my abilities, but not be boastful or proud.

6. Exemplary

I want to stand out.

7. Loyal

I want to pride myself on sticking out the storm.

8. Fascinating

I want you to be hanging on every word I say.

9. Empathetic

I want to be able to feel your pain, so that I can help you heal.

10. Vivacious

I want to be the life of the party.

11. Reckless

I want to be crazy. Thrilling. Unpredictable. I want to keep you guessing, keep your heart pounding, and your blood rushing.

12. Philanthropic

I want to give.

13. Philosophical

I want to ask the tough questions that get you thinking about the purpose of our beating hearts.

14. Loving

When my name is spoken, I want my tenderness to come to mind.

15. Quaintrelle

I want my passion to ooze out of me.

16. Belesprit

I want to be quick. Witty. Always on my toes.

17. Conscientious

I want to always be thinking of others.

18. Passionate

...and I want people to know what my passions are.

19. Alluring

I want to be a woman who draws people in.

20. Kind

Simply put, I want to be pleasant and kind.

21. Selcouth

Even if you've known me your whole life, I want strange, yet marvelous. Rare and wondrous.

22. Pierian

From the way I move to the way I speak, I want to be poetic.

23. Esoteric

Do not mistake this. I do not want to be misunderstood. But rather I'd like to keep my circle small and close. I don't want to be an average, everyday person.

24. Authentic

I don't want anyone to ever question whether I am being genuine or telling the truth.

25. Novaturient

..about my own life. I never want to settle for good enough. Instead I always want to seek to make a positive change.

26. Observant

I want to take all of life in.

27. Peart

I want to be honestly in good spirits at all times.

28. Romantic

Sure, I want to be a little old school in this sense.

29. Elysian

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Cover Image Credit: Favim

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If You Believe In Reverse Racism, Please Check Your Privilege

I can't help but cringe at comments claiming "reverse racism" because the people making them clearly don't understand what racism is.

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White people will often hold "reverse racism" as an excuse to avoid racial equality. They seem to think that any advantage given to minority groups somehow discriminates against them. While it is true that prejudice can exist towards all races and cultural groups, the word racism just cannot be used to describe something white people experience. Racism, as we describe it today, is based on centuries of systematic and institutional oppression. A history that includes slavery, lack of voting rights, genocide, violence, and segregation still impacts our views and opinions today. Many Americans claim that that is how it used to be and we've changed as a country since then. What this point fails to recognize is that historical tendencies impact our psychology in a myriad of ways.

With a tradition of demonizing those who are different, it is no surprise that racist tendencies persist today. The institutionalized race hierarchy that has always existed in America and the world leaves traces of prejudice and bias. White people are unlikely to recognize their inherent biases and how they respond to people who look different than themselves. Furthermore, with the few legal sanctions we have regarding equality based on race, the American public often assumes that the work is all done. Written legislation convinces us that we have no more need to improve race relations and that equality under the law means equality in all areas of society.

With violence against black populations, prison imbalances, and even protests based on white supremacy, it is clear that America has to improve racial equality a lot. These systematic inequalities are what constitutes racism, and they create the daily prejudices and biases that various races and ethnicities experience today. White people simply don't have a system such as this working against them. There was no slavery of all whites in America, white people, in fact, controlled the creation of Western culture as we understand it today. History prioritizes the white man's opinion above all else and in terms of obtaining leadership positions and power white cultures have always had the upper hand.

In the quest for equality, inequalities often present themselves. With affirmative action and groups that prioritize support for specific races, it is easy to feel more and more divided as we seek unity. However, what white populations have to understand is that institutionally inferior groups need resources to support them in claiming their equal rights. We need to tip the scales to make leadership positions held by all races and to obtain a country that allows equal opportunity for people of every race.

So the next time you make or overhear a comment about how racism exists against white people, really think about the history that created what we today call racism. Racism isn't a small prejudice or bias, it's a long-held system of oppression. To claim that the same exists against white people is not only untrue, but it fails to recognize the suffering the race hierarchy has caused. Saying that reverse racism exists is proof in it of itself that many still don't understand what racism is or how pervasive it continues to be.

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