If you wear blackface, have worn blackface, or ever intend to wear blackface, let me inform you that you are ignorant–period. It’s 2019 and the national dialogue around white supremacy and privilege will make your blackface-wearing self an accessory to this reality – even if you don’t consider yourself a racist or white supremacist.
Let me be clear, when non-black people darken their skin in a deliberate attempt to impersonate black people, it’s ignorant. It looks ignorant and it reinforces an ignorance to a more than 200-year history of the oppression of black people in America.
Today, I am your cultural informant. This is a term used for black people who help their non-black friends understand what’s acceptable to say or do and what’s not. I want to help you realize how ignorant you look and portray yourself to be when you wear blackface.
Someone will inevitably ask, “why can’t I wear blackface if I’m simply portraying a character or using it for a costume?” Well, that question is ignorant; however, as a good preacher would, let me offer you three points on why wearing blackface at anytime is unacceptable.
1.) You’re not black and you never will be.
I am a proud black man. I love my skin, my culture, and my people. In fact, I recently purchased a t-shirt that reads, “Blacknificent (adjective)–impressively dripping in black beauty, elaborately infused with melanin, extravagantly bathed in chocolate.” And most black people would argue that they love being Black.
And I contend that wearing blackface does not threaten or diminish our blackness; rather, it is an insult – a cheap representation and attempted replication of something that is more than skin-deep. Our blackness is inextricably bound to our ancestors, who endured centuries of oppression, built this country, and made it great while never receiving credit and being treated as inferior human beings. Our music has been stolen, our inventions taken, our vote suppressed, and our rights threatened; and through it all, we still rise.
So, I realize that by wearing blackface you think you are stepping into our excellence for a moment. But let me give you a reality check, you look ignorant. You’re not black and you never will be.
2.) You align yourself with White supremacy.
Yes, there are people in the world who want to reinforce white supremacy and use their white privilege to marginalize people of color. They are ignorant and evil. But for those who don’t consider themselves supremacists, when you wear blackface, even in a joking way, you may as well be placed in the same category as those who are complicit in the evil of racism. Therefore, you, too, are ignorant.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 yearbook picture provides a visual explanation of how blackface is linked to white supremacy. The symbolism in the yearbook photo which pictures someone in blackface next to someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan (Gov. Northam has conveniently denied he is one of them), is a clear statement that anyone wearing blackface is uplifting white supremacy and the dark history of domestic terrorism in our country. More directly, blackface is a method of white supremacy.
Don’t believe me? Just do your scholarly research and Google “the history of blackface in America.”
So, if you are an individual who wears blackface or a company like Gucci that designs clothing that portrays blackface, people have every reason to call you a white supremacist. And guess what, you’re ignorant.
3.) You make it difficult for us to achieve a truly united America and you make us an embarrassment to the rest of the world.
Black people and persons of color in general have dealt with plenty of ignorance from whites throughout history in an attempt to bring our country together. And as demographics shift, and whites become the minority in America, people of color can no longer tolerate such ignorance. This type of behavior also makes us look bad throughout the world and threatens the American ideal of liberty and justice for all.
So, if you want to be a friend to black people, tell your non-black friends how ignorant they are when they wear blackface. And should you wear or have the urge to wear blackface, when you look in the mirror, say these words: I am ignorant – period.
>> Opinion: The importance of facing our history
Rev. Kevin Murriel is senior pastor of Atlanta’s Cascade United Methodist Church.
About the Author
Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com
Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC