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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College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.
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The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:


“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:

“FISH STICK! I NAMED HIM FISH STICK BECAUSE HE'S A FISH STICK, OF COURSE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 59)

When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:


"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

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Dear Marvel, You Really Need TO Do Better With Representation

This is simply a poor attempt at more diversity.

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SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Avengers "Endgame" hit theaters and shattered records across the world with making an amazing $350 million in North America and an even more stunning $1.2 billion worldwide. In fact, 'Endgame' has already destroyed records set back "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Avatar," and even the first part of the movie, 'Infinity War.' Fans went in expecting a mix of emotions and for the most part, the movie definitely delivered. However, there is one thing that some fans are severely disappointed in.

Directors like the Russo Brothers hyped up an "exclusive gay character" and "Marvel's first openly gay character" in the 22 movie franchise. But fans weren't happy with what they received after all of this hype beforehand. While representation is representation sometimes it's simply not good enough. In this movie, Steve Rogers (Captain America) goes to a counseling group with others to deal with such a huge loss in their world and lives. This is where we meet the "exclusive" gay character, who barely even has a name. He's an unnoticeable character if you're not paying attention, has no relevance to the plot, and doesn't make any kind of difference in the movie at all. He talks about how he finally went out on a date, with a guy, and how eventually they both cry while reflecting on their lives after the snap. While they call this "exclusive," we call this pretty close to queerbaiting.

Making a big deal over a background character and parading him around for his sexuality isn't what we would call representation. While it's always cool to see an LGBTQ character on the screen in such a huge series, this character is still just a minor character and has no relevance and is literally never seen again. He is on screen for less than five minutes before we never see this character again. This is what you call representation? A minor background character with no importance whatsoever? No thanks!

What we are looking for is at least someone that has something to do with the plot, not just there to say they've done it and market to the LGBTQ community. Marvel needs to do better when it comes to this. Their big deal over a minor character lost our respect more than it gained because this excitement was only a money grab more than an actual attempt at diversity. When we have characters like Valkyrie, who is Bisexual in the comics, we want to see more major characters gain this diversity. Even Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson agrees, "we gotta move faster" as no person should be excluded from being a superhero for any reason, even sexual orientation.

So Marvel, while you're here breaking box office records, don't forget to do better at giving the LGBTQ community the representation they deserve, and the representation we all want! And until you do, we'll just be here looking over Brie Larson's and Bev Johnson's support of Captain Marvel and Valkyrie!

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