Chairman's Corner: "ICDHR Chairman Reflects on the Blackface and its Historical Impact in America"
For days, the media has covered the use of “Blackface,” by elected government officials in Virginia to mock and find entertainment in the degradation of Americans whose skin is not white. There are those who continue to believe that the act of painting one’s face black is all in fun and people that look like me are making a mountain out of a mole hill. They do not find discrimination in such acts. They excuse these racist displays of ignorance with statements such as “they were young at the time” and “as young people, they were just playing around and meant no harm” and “those who complain about whites using Blackface are overly sensitive and too emotional.”
Supporters of such thoughts fail to recognize the pain of others and do not comprehend that finding amusement, for themselves and others, in this way is wrong and constitutes institutional
racism. This is a sickness that has been spreading since the establishment of our country, for which a cure has not yet been found.
Blackface, a form of make-up used predominately by non-blacks to represent a caricature of a black person gained popularity in the nineteenth century and contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky.” At one time, famous entertainers like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and many others used Blackface to help further their careers. Al Jolson and Jimmy Durante were the most famous of those who grew their fame by denigrating black Americans in this way. Oftentimes, to be able to perform in white establishments, black entertainers, in
this way. Oftentimes, to be able to perform in white establishments, black entertainers, in the early days of their careers, like Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Flip Wilson and countless others had to act out the stereotype of the Blackface to be allowed to perform in those places. They had to shuffle their feet, laugh when there was nothing to laugh about, grin and speak in a way that carried out the stereotype that had been assigned to black Americans dating back for centuries.
I continue to struggle with understanding the lack of sensitivity and in finding an answer to the question of why some people seek pleasure and enjoyment in the humiliation of others. Another way we see this present itself today is in the bullying that occurs in our schools and society. Many Americans, over the age of fifty, may remember books used in most schools at one time. They carried titles such as Little Black Sambo and Buckeye and yet others that contained images of little black children portrayed as wide-eyed, scared, submissive and with unmanaged hair.