Black Face is Not Just About Race
It’s a complex mix of what is right and good, and a mob directed cancel culture in changing times
I’ve been reading many trending news stories about blackface and cancel culture.
Blackface is a term that is used to describe a form of theatrical make-up that is predominantly used by non-black performers in order to represent a caricature of a black person.
In the U.S.A. the practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” and other racist depictions. By the middle of the century, blackface minstrel shows had become a distinctive American art form, translating formal works such as opera into popular terms for a general audience. Early in the 20th century, blackface branched off from the minstrel show and became a form in its own right. In the United States, blackface declined in popularity beginning in the 1940s and into the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Interestingly the minstrel show became quite popular in the South African black communities, a trend that began in the 1890s when American shows visited those communities, and it became a sort of real-time, analog meme.
In our present time many television and film writers, directors, and producers are racing (no pun intended)to apologize for using blackface at a time when it might have been seen as satire rather than overt racism.
Now with cancel culture (or call-out culture) a modern form of ostracism on the rise, Entertainers of all stripes are apologizing as fast as they can for something they might have said or done a few decades ago and which might have been acceptable at the time. In cancel culture, someone is thrust out of social or professional circles — either online on social media, in the real world, or both. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “canceled.”
A few dictionaries define cancel culture as “withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.
It’s getting heavy out there, and no one is really sure where the line is? This same way of thinking has had a strong effect on people seeking to present other cultures that are not their own who get accused of cultural misappropriation.
I’m really an observer here, though all of this has certainly been food for thought. I didn’t personally find a pair of black Katy Perry shoes racist or offensive, and neither did my elderly black neighbor, but many black people did and Katy apologized profusely and pulled shoes. Poor Katy had a similar problem a few years ago after placing a bindi as part of her costume in a concert (a colored dot worn on the center of her forehead. The cancel culture folks decided that she had misappropriated it from Hindus and Jains.
The notion of cancel culture is a form of boycott involving an individual (usually a celebrity) who is deemed to have acted or spoken in a questionable or controversial manner.
One of the first blows of “take no prisoners” cancel culture was the Whoopi Goldberg/Ted Danson scenario. Danson, a highly respected actor and engaged progressive experienced negative press attention on October 8, 1993, after his appearance wearing blackface at a Friars Club comedy roast in honor of Goldberg. Later, Goldberg defended the sketch, explaining that she had helped write much of the material and referred Danson to the makeup artist who painted his face as a societal critique. Danson and Goldberg issued statements emphasizing “the Friars Club tradition of raucous and over the top humor” and describing those offended as newcomers who “were uncomfortable with what to expect”. Substantial excerpts from the performance were later printed in Spy Magazine. A month later their relationship ended.
This is really complex. Clearly, black face is offensive for so many reasons. On the other hand, I’m afraid of buying dinner in a soul food restaurant for fear of being accused of cultural misappropriation (I’m exaggerating). I mean does Spike Lee need to apologize for making Bamboozled, a film that many BLM people have never seen, and if they had, half would think it is a work of genius and the other half would probably boycott all his other movies.
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory. He is also a white dude, raised by black people. His website is AskLewis.com
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