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Why Do People Still Dress Up in Blackface in 2020?

"Tacky" + "racist" does not equal "funny."
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Making your way through this cruel, confounding, ever-changing world is difficult. Potential for pain, embarrassment, and heartbreak lurks around every corner. It's hard to do it on your own, and sometimes you need a fresh perspective. Got a question about relationships, sex, family, culture, fashion, really anything other than math? Lay it on me at [email protected]. I'm here to help you minimize the damage you will necessarily inflict on the world just by being alive.

So, what's your problem?


Dear Dave,

I know that blackface is wrong. I would never do blackface. I'm not a monster. But…why is it bad again?

-Tim D.

First of all, a sincere thank you for not being a monster. Today's world offers so many tantalizing opportunities to be one; good on you for resisting them. We need more people like you.

So. Blackface. Blackface was a key component of the minstrel shows of the early 19th century, in which white performers would play slaves and free blacks. These portrayals would be built around insulting, degrading, and dehumanizing stereotypes of black people: the aggressive "buck" with his lustful eye on white women; the freed slave who aspired to polite society but couldn't pronounce his words correctly; the unkempt, neglected black children who were disposable even to their own parents. Blackface demeaned black people, and desensitized white audiences to the horrors of slavery. It was bad news.

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What does that have to do with you, now that nobody on Earth was alive during slavery? Why is that still a problem in a country with a black president? Why can't I do it, even if I have black friends and several Kendrick Lamar tracks on my iPhone?

You still shouldn't do it, because it's still insulting. It still evokes that long, horrific period in our country's history, whether you want it to or not. It doesn't matter what your intention is, when the thing you are doing is racist. Look at it this way: you might have learned the C word from taking your woke ass to "The Vagina Monologues," but that doesn't mean it's a word you can say around your grandmother.

Without a doubt, there are some people reading this and thinking: "Everyone needs to stop being so politically correct. I'm not politically correct!" To which I reply: Yes, you are. You know how to alter your behavior to move smoothly through life. You know not to grab a female co-worker's breast and say HONK. You know not to smoke on an airplane. You wouldn't go to a dive bar in Wrigleyville this weekend, find the largest, drunkest guy, and yell "the Cubs SUCK" in his face. When the consequences are getting fired or fined or beaten up, you know how to behave. So why not add "considering the history and perspective of another human being whose daily experience is different from yours in ways you cannot imagine" to the list of reasons you should think before acting?

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I can't help but think of Donald Trump and his constant assertions that nobody has more respect for women than he does. This is a man who has said he can grab women by their vaginas because he's on television. This is a man who nodded gleefully along as Howard Stern called his own daughter "a piece of ass." This is a man who refuted an accusation of sexual assault by saying his accuser wasn't attractive enough for him to sexually assault—and then he held for applause and basked in it. And still, this is a man who absolutely believes that he is top ranked globally in the category of Respect For Women. When you do blackface and then say that you're not racist, that's you. You're Donald Trump. And just as with him, even your good friends aren't buying it.

If respect for African-Americans doesn't move you, consider this: Even if you come at it with a heart that is pure, blackface is tacky, and it makes you look ignorant. The make-up will wash off, but the mark will stay on you forever.

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Let me end with a quick note to anyone about to leave a Facebook comment calling me a "cuck" or whatever elfish nonsense you alt-right folks are calling people this week. If you've been asked to respect someone else's perspective and your first instinct is to leave a defensive and insulting comment about it, then the person being over-sensitive is you. Take a breath. Read a book. Go to bed.

I agree that people should stop whining. You first.

It doesn't matter what your intention is, when the thing you are doing is racist.


Send any and all questions (besides math questions) to [email protected].

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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About The Author
Dave Holmes
Writer-at-Large
Dave Holmes is Esquire.com's L.A.-based writer-at-large. His first book, "Party of One," was published in 2016.
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