Blackface has been an issue for quite some time. Performances that utilized blackface in the early to mid-1800s were often a pastime for white Americans. By definition, blackface is the act of using makeup to play a black role by someone who is nonblack. The act is not only offensive, but contributes to stereotypes of the Black community. Why is it offensive? For one thing, it is not funny, but more than that, it is damaging and has a long and highly racist history.
In the 19th century, white actors would use black paint on their faces to depict slaves and Black people instead of actually hiring actors of that race. Many of the roles that blackface was used for were figures such as the Mammy, Jezebel, Uncle Tom and Buck. It has also been used to portray the figure of Jim Crow, a term used for the segregation laws during the civil rights movement. Blackface has even continued past the 1900s to now, where it remains stereotypical, dehumanizing and a negative portrayal of Black people. Blackface makes our existence a form of mockery and ridicule.
Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia, Thomas Norment, Republican Senate Majority Leader and Mark Herring, Attorney General, as well as countless others, are under fire for saying that blackface does not have a political affiliation. That statement is fundamentally wrong. If political leaders have done Blackface, whether in the past or present, it’s going to have some association with them. They will always be associated with doing the act itself. Countless white politicians have been photographed doing it early in their careers. According to CBS News, Thomas Norment was the managing editor of the Virginia Military Institute’s yearbook in 1968, which included racial slurs and images. The yearbook is featured online and has countless photos of white students who have racist and derogatory names that are meant to mock Black people. There are students in blackface and written slurs.
When white people are called out for doing blackface, there is almost always an apology that goes along the lines of it being done in the past and is, “not who [they] are now.” I think the apologies are not sincere and do not help the issue because in many cases, they are adults who were able to make sound decisions, and it does not matter what political or racial climate you were in. For a long time, blackface was seen as a costume and as a form of comedy for white Americans. Apologizing is a step in the right direction towards seeing it as an issue, but it means nothing if someone does not acknowledge their racist past.
Governor Norman was involved in a similar incident as Thomas Norment in a yearbook photo from VMI as well. His racist nickname on the page was, “Coonman.” According to CBS News, his photo was among another where a man in blackface is standing next to another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. It is being reported that he has apologized for the incident. It has also been stated that he put black shoe polish on his face when he dressed up as Michael Jackson for a talent show in 1984. Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to doing blackface, too. He was a college student when this took place.
It is frustrating that this continues to happen now in 2019. Even though these men did these acts as young adults, that does not make it any less wrong. If you have done blackface in the past or present, it is stemmed from a place of racism. I do believe that people can change, but you cannot deny your actions and what they represented. Once you have shown that you are racist or did something racist in the past, I believe that those feelings can still be there. Blackface has a political affiliation, and these three men are mistaken to say otherwise. Blackface is wrong, and people who have participated in it should be held accountable.