Blackface performers are, “…the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.” — Frederick Douglass
Julianne Hough, a participant on “Dancing with the Stars”, recently darkened her skin to resemble “Crazy Eyes”; an African American character on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” at a Halloween party. Hough later apologized stating: “I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New Black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created. It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize”.
Hough’s blackface rendition was followed by a Florida man who blackened his skin to portray a mortally wounded Trayvon Martin at a Halloween party. In the photograph, the man on the left is wearing a gray hoodie stained with fake blood and what appears to be a black mask or black face paint. The man on the right is wearing a shirt that bears the words “Neighborhood Watch,” and his fingers — simulating a gun shape — are pointed at the first man’s head. The picture has inspired anger for two reasons: First, because the costumes portray a tragedy. Another reason people are so disturbed by the costumes is the use of “blackface” in one of the costumes (http://pix11.com/2013/10/30/trayvon-martin-blackface-halloween-costume-may-be-even-worse-than-these/#axzz2jFcY3Mzn).
Now, two San Diego high school football coaches are being investigated after a picture of them donning blackface for Halloween costumes surfaced on Facebook. Brian Basteyns and Harold Seeley, the head and assistant coaches of the Junipero Serra High School football team, were shown in the picture with their faces painted black to look like members of the Jamaican bobsled team made famous in the movie “Cool Runnings,” Fox 5 San Diego reports (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/30/high-school-football-coaches-under-investigation-after-blackface-costume-photo/).
Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”. In 1848, blackface minstrel shows were an American national art of the time, translating formal art 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, until it ended in the United States with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface).
In today’s society, who doesn’t know that it’s not OK to wear blackface? It would be too easy to write these incidents off as individuals being ignorant about the history of blackface; if you choose to wear blackface you are making a public declaration of your racist dogmas.