Who Told Celebrities That Blackface Was An Acceptable Comedy Routine?
Interested in our take on a more recent racial controversy, Julianne Hough‘s decision to go in blackface on Halloween? Click here.
Last night, a contestant on MTV's The Challenge: Battle of the Exes shocked her cast mates and everyone watching by applying Nutella to her face and doing a “funny” blackface impression of her ex-boyfriend Ty. This was horrible for obvious and important reasons, as well as less important ones (I will never look at that delicious chocolate spread the same way again).
This happened not too long after Billy Crystal shocked people by donning blackface for his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. at the Oscars. Didn't we all agree in like, 1960 that this wasn't okay? What gives, celebrities?
For anyone in need of a history lesson, blackface was first used in American minstrel shows in which white performers portrayed racist stereotypes of African Americans for “entertainment” purposes. They were so intertwined with institutionalized racism that the segregationist Jim Crow laws were named after a popular blackface character. Given our country's serious ongoing problems in this area, pretty much everyone with a brain agrees that we should leave blackface in our troubled past, where it belongs. I don't care if you're white and you want to be Barack Obama for Halloween. Tough shit. I can tell you right now that the POTUS would not approve.
The only time blackface is borderline okay is when it's being used for the express purpose of exposing and mocking racist ideas. Even then, you need to tread carefully. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and 30 Rock both employed the concept, and it worked because the costume was conceived by foolish characters we're not supposed to want to emulate.
For her part, The Challenge chick Emily claims she had no idea blackface was considered racist, as she was raised in a cult and did not receive a very good education. She later claimed to have never even heard the term “blackface” before. Fine, maybe she's one of those people you see in those “man on the street” segments who can't name the current vice president. But when she asked her cast mate if the costume was racist, she replied “no.” What's her excuse?
Let this be a history lesson for Emily, and a reminder for everyone else: blackface for any other reason than showing how horrid blackface is is not okay. (And even then, you'd better have a damn clear premise.) Period. The end. Nobody's going to think it's funny, they will just think you're a huge racist. Why is that so hard for some people to understand?