Ed Pratt: Blackface isn’t innocent fun — it’s guilty racism

Buy Now BY WALT HANDELSMAN | whandelsman@theadvocate.com Watching the unfolding story about prominent whites wearing blackface and Ku Klux Klan garb got me to thinking.

Being a racist or exhibiting racist and bigoted tendencies has to be an exhausting and time-consuming gig. Folks devote precious minutes or hours consumed with hate and trying to make themselves feel better by demeaning another group of people.

All of that seems like a waste of valuable time and energy. I find it time-consuming enough to figure out how I can eat healthier. Are tomatoes better for me than lemons? Should I eat more raw stuff than cooked stuff? What is this Keto diet thing? How can I survive if I reduce my intake of gravy?

Those considerations combined with what I do at work, dealing with family and just surviving every day, is a lot on my plate. Thinking how I can say or exhibit some kind of bizarre behavior to hurt someone of another race or someone with different sexual orientation? I just don’t have the drive or the inclination to do it.

You also have to consider the approving audience for this stuff. What do we make of them? It begs the question: Do they go home feeling good about themselves? Probably. Remembering ‘The Opera’: When Louisiana House members wore blackface and whiteface Then there are the middle-of-the-road racists. They claim ignorance, suggesting that mimicking black, brown or yellow people in a derogatory way is merely funny stuff and shouldn’t be seen as anything other than good-natured fun.

Claiming ignorance of the racial overtones of blackface doesn’t get anyone off the hook. In that case, what bubble have you lived in where you wouldn’t know what is offensive?

They know.

Jenée Desmond-Harris made a great point in a Vox article. Not feeling racist when you’re wearing blackface does nothing to change how it affects those who see it.

Over my lifetime I have witnessed or heard people trying to mock black people. Yes, I was offended and told them so. But I also used those experiences as a means of making me better, stronger and more competitive.

If my skin color alone has invaded someone else’s thought processes and how they approached their daily functions, I check that as a win. If that person could be doing something constructive but chose being stupid, that’s a win, too.

Here comes the big whammy: Today, evidence of them doing that kind of stuff makes them look pretty dumb and racist to some of their neighbors, co-workers, and most of a more enlightened society.

Now some of them are saying that their horrible exhibitions were “back then,” but that they have seen the error of their ways. No doubt some have. Others? Nah.

Here’s a little history. The blackface goes back to the minstrel shows in 1830s New York by white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing who mimicked enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. (It was so bad for early black actors, singers and vaudevillians, that some were forced to don blackface because white audiences would not accept them any other way.)

The white performers characterized blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice. One of the major performers was a character called Jim Crow. (Does that ring a bell?)

Obviously, Jim Crow and the rest left out of their performances what some plantation owners and others looked like while raping, maiming, and killing slaves and tearing slave children away from their parents.

So, I’m thinking, why couldn’t the modern-day blackface lovers channel that hate and bigotry into helping the elderly, the homeless and hungry or tutor some children? Committing brain capital on racism or sexism wastes a lot of energy.

One can only guess that these actions satisfy an itch they have or calms their blood pressure. It must be of some benefit since they feel so compelled to do something so irrelevant and stupid.

What else will they do next, stoop to mocking people with disabilities to get laughs? Oh, wait, that’s old. Remember there is someone who lives in a big white house who did that on national television and generated laughter from a lot of people standing around him.

You have to wonder, did they grow up being taught that demeaning and mocking others was a good thing? Did someone else teach the teacher?

Actor Denis Leary put it best. “Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.”

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com .


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