Amid news of Megyn Kelly’s NBC show being cancelled after her comments about blackface, I was taken off guard when hearing about the confusion, terror and pure shock that so many people felt and had. The offensiveness and hurtfulness of blackface, which has such a long history, is shocking and alarmingly confusing for many people.
What one may fail to realize though, is that being ignorant and unwilling to see the hurtfulness of racially charged words and actions, that may seem so mundane and unimportant to you, is potentially more dangerous than blatant racism. Partaking in, condoning and giving a pass to those who do things that hurt a population of people is never okay, and you believing it is because it does not affect nor make sense to you, is not a valid excuse.
Many of the same people who do not understand the problem with blackface are the same people who would not like if someone attacked their religion. For example: a joke about the crucifixion of Jesus. This is not to say that making a religious joke is okay, but it is to demonstrate that for the most part, all humans understand what it is to be offended and hurt.
The problem, though, lies in people failing to realize and believing that what personally offends and is hurtful to one is somehow superior, validated or makes more sense than what hurts someone else. Of course this is not to validate those who take offense to things that themselves are offensive, such as taking offense to a certain race, but for the most part we all can take personal offense to something valid, have it be a disability we have, a trauma, a racial or religious offense, etc.
Most of us know, or should know, not to say the n-word if you are not Black, not to joke about the Holocaust or not to make fun of disabilities — not because we are trying to be politically correct but because we know it is unnecessary and vile. Why then, do so many people still today — in 2018 — in a time where our country has progressed to the point of having a Black president, still continue to question and wonder why racially charged words and actions are so offensive?
Blackface, which first originated in the 1830s, as explained by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo , and has a history that dates back to the Civil War. Blackface was used as propaganda and “slavery was all about creating visions, types, stereotypes of an entire race of people as subhuman in every way," Jefferson said.
Although using blackface to resemble a Black character from a movie is not necessarily propaganda alluding to Black people as subhuman, blackface is offensive and distasteful under any circumstance considering its complex history.
After this period, blackface in the early 1900s was used as a way to express fascination for the Black community, but was also used to mock them. White minstrel performers "claimed what they did on stage was based on their perceptions of how black people lived." Jefferson said that "blackface is so tied to comedy, to people enjoying themselves, to people having fun, that that rattles you still more."
People may try to sugarcoat, twist and contort the roots and weight of blackface, but the truth is that there is no way to take blackface or its history lightly. There is something extremely tragic and unsettling about the fact that dressing up as a race was somehow funny. It sends a powerful and awful message that Black people are inferior, so much so that a sort of comedy lies in mocking and characterizing them.
Regardless of the intent of blackface throughout history, the unchanging constant is the dehumanization of Black people through blackface. Blackface was used to mock, above anything else, and to characterize a group of people sending false messages that Black people are “ lying or buffoonish.”
Jefferson perfectly encapsulates what is so tragic and important to note about blackface, and anything that is racially charged for that matter. It is not about political correctness — it is about decency,sensitivity and addressing history, not sugarcoating or running from it.
Uber political correctness makes messages or things so palatable that they become watered down and lose their significance. That definition though, is different than being sensitive to people and history. While we cannot be so palatable that we stand for nothing. People cannot be so ignorant that they try to erase and sugarcoat history to fit the narrative they wish to create about their life and world.
Blackface, alongside so many other things in this world, are not a joke nor are they up for debate on whether or not sensitivity to it is asinine and unimportant.
Breana Omana is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in political science. Her column, "Left Brain, Right Brain," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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