By Solomon Smith, Political News Editor
Halloween is right around the corner and some people are determined to mess it up for everyone by wearing blackface, the one outfit that people know they should not wear.
Blackface is back in the news and some still need to be told that it is not okay. Not when you are a fan of the person, not when it is a popular character, not ever.
That should be the end of it, but people still do it and still defend it. Megyn Kelly received negative feedback, and rightly so, for defending blackface to an all-white panel on her morning show. The panel offered up the most anemic protests against Kelly as she stated the most un-woke view of racism a wealthy, privileged white women could possibly make.
“You do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween,” said Kelly. “Back when I was a kid, that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as a character.”
Kelly is a recovering racist, having left Fox News after years of pushing insulting and racist ideals, and bigotry is standard fare for Kelly, but this is not about Kelly’s failures as a person. Defending an act that has been used to dehumanize is not acceptable.
To understand the horror and pain that blackface inflicts on blacks in America, one has to go back to the early days of vaudeville (you could go further back than that but one cannot cover all of America’s racism in one article). The demonizing of African Americans, as exemplified by the popularity of minstrel shows, are commonly traced back to one of the first recorded white actors to use blackface, Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, who toured the country with his Jim Crow character.
Minstrel shows drew from a staple of black caricatures, ranging from the Mammy to the Uncle Tom, mocking not only the skin of blacks but painting them as helpless, hapless, ignorant buffoons. Rice’s performances help popularize these beliefs through his shows, which were wildly popular, according to the University of Southern Florida’s History of Minstrelsy website.
African Americans are not the only victims of this dehumanizing caricature. The yellow face of the “Good Earth,” the Redskins football fans who wear headdresses and whoop it up, to the Cinco de Mayo sombrero and fake mustaches of drunken frat boys on college campuses; sadly the list goes on. African Americans do not have a special ownership of this act, but they do have a special relationship to it in America. The sole purpose here is reduction. Reduction of a group’s humanity to its basest elements, excluding the souls of the people it mocks, and it is a mockery, even with the best of intentions.
The tow-headed, blue-eyed boy who wears the Black Panther costume because he loves the character is not the same as the white housewife who paints her skin brown to look like Diana Ross in the tradition of Jim Crow. The differences should be obvious, even to Kelly: the painting of white skin is part of the minstrel show and America’s racist zeitgeist, recognized as a form of debasement and mockery.
Kelly and her ilk would do well to remember that our skin, and the scars it bears, are not a costume.