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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Boyd: For those who don’t get it after 200 years, blackface is racist, not funny

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As my daughter and I talked in the kitchen over the weekend, she asked me if I’d seen the photo circulating on social media. I told her I had not. She proceeded to find the image on her phone and show it to me.

I sighed, rubbed my forehead and shook my head.

A Center Grove High School football player took a picture of himself wearing blackface.

Here we are again. We’re literally weeks away from 2022, and teens — and adults — still think it’s OK to wear blackface. Somehow the recent dustups about blackface missed them.

  • A student in Napanee, Indiana, came to a football game in blackface in October.
  • A Newberg Public Schools employee in Newberg, Oregon, came to school in blackface in September.
  • Faron Hamblin, Warsaw, Virginia, a town council member, posted photos as Randy Watson, a character from “Coming to America” in October.
  • A student at St. Francis Catholic High School, Sacramento, California, altered her selfie to mock a Black classmate in February.
  • A white business teacher came to class in blackface in Parkdale Collegiate Institute, in Parkdale, a city near Ontario, Canada, in October.
  • Photos of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in blackface from a 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced in 2019.
  • Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wore blackface when he dressed as a rapper in 1980. This revelation also came in 2019.
  • Colorado State University students appeared in blackface while doing the “Wakanda forever” salute in 2019.

I could fill this page with incidents of people wearing blackface. It often happens during October as people who want to wear “authentic” Halloween costumes decide face darkening is a good idea. Just about every year media organizations write articles about why blackface is a no-no. Obviously, some missed the memo.

Our inability to honestly discuss racism in America is why this keeps happening. White people aren’t paying attention when other white people get into hot water because it doesn’t affect them. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say many white people don’t pay attention to issues that affect Black Americans.

Talking about race is uncomfortable for many white people, they become defensive, so they avoid it, which is why some have surmised the district attorney in the Ahmaud Arbery trial avoided bringing up race to the majority white jury. If it starts to look as if the “race card” is being played another faction of white people get angry and defensive. So, we bury our heads in the sand and pretend there’s no such thing as racism.

What’s clear is people don’t understand the history of blackface and why it’s viewed as offensive — and some just don’t care. It’s a failure of our education system that so many are so ignorant. The hullabaloo about nonexistent critical race theory in school shows how far many will go to make sure their students don’t learn about racism. And when you don’t learn from the past, you’re bound to repeat it, and so here we are with blackface.

For those who still don’t get it, blackface dates back about 200 years. In minstrel shows, white actors painted their faces black to mock Black people. These “comedy” routines used racist stereotypes to create caricatures meant to dehumanize Black people and demonstrate inferiority. Some Black people aren’t bothered by blackface. Some people who put on blackface don’t mean any harm. It’s all irrelevant. The fact is the blackface is steeped in racism, and just shouldn’t be done.

But it will be done again. Soon.

Inevitably those who wear blackface will say they’re not racist. Yet, they engage in something absolutely racist. By the way, no one in America is racist, let them tell it. Somehow, though, this country remains filled with people who do racist things. Calling someone out on racism, however, becomes bigger than the actual racist act, and that person is now a victim.

I also have to ask what’s going on at Center Grove. This isn’t the first time a student from that school has been accused of mocking a Black student from an opposing team. During a basketball game in 2018 a white student from Center Grove fell onto the floor and pretended to have a seizure. It just so happened the Black student had a medical condition that caused seizures. This “fish-out-of-water” routine was common and part of their “curtain of distraction” deployed against the opposing team. It was just a coincidence that a Black student who had seizures felt mocked, the story went. Um, OK.

Granted, these incidents are years apart, but students in high school in 2018 can be in school today. What lessons were learned then? We know Center Grove is predominately white so what is the district doing? What are parents doing?

Paying lip service and ignoring discussions about racism because you’re not Black isn’t the answer.

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