Let’s talk about blackface

It’s that time of year again: the time where people will choose costumes that are not racist and those that are. Ok, some of you reading this are thinking: “WHOA! Costumes are not racist!” You, my dear friend, need to read this.

Always like clockwork, someone shows up on the Internet or at a party wearing blackface. Sadly, it seems to happen a little more frequently in the region where I am. I get it, maybe no one has broken it down enough for you to understand and the Internet says: “No, just no, not ever!” but you are a person who will do something unless you know precisely why. This is your come to Jesus party, my friend. I am writing this to break it down into something that might make sense for you.

Some people are still confused about why and how blackface is offensive. Let me put this simply:

What is it that drew you to your Halloween costume?

Let’s take Beyonce, because, really, who wouldn’t want to channel Queen Bey for a night!?

What do you like about Beyonce? Her amazing talent? Her incredible dance moves? That she’s a strong woman? That she grew up kicking stereotypes in their teeth?

How could you dress like Beyonce? A wicked body suit with jewels? Some fishnets or shimmery stockings? A fiercely sexy yet empowered outfit? Or if you’re funny, a tiara and a bee costume.

You can dress up in any of these outfits and be an amazing Beyonce!

Are you thinking, “But, wait! No one will know who I am!” Is what makes Beyonce ‘Beyonce’ her skin color? It’s part of her identity, but not her single identity, and that part of her identity you should not imitate. It is hers. You cannot borrow it. This is the part where the Internet said, “No, just no, not ever!”

Blackface has a history in the theater. It was used to wrongfully imitate and demean a group of people, not a particular person in most instances. This meant perpetuating stereotypes while wearing burnt cork, dark paint, or shoe polish to darken the wearer’s skin, as if their racism was not evident enough. This practice only has once place: in history. Please do not continue to perpetuate these stereotypes. And, yes, my friend, stereotypes are racist.

By wearing blackface, it sends the message that all you see about people with skin different than yours is their skin color. You only see and care about the caricature you imagine of them. People are human beings, and their culture and identity are not for sale. Let me also bring up that history piece. Stereotypes are harmful. Maybe history wasn’t your thing in school, but it is important. Do some soul searching with Google and Wikipedia. They can help.

This year, and forevermore, just say no to blackface. Really, would you want to insult your pal Bey in that way? I sure hope not.

Now that you know why you say no to blackface, it’s your job to go inform others. You might see someone wearing blackface at a Halloween party or in costume around the neighborhood. Take them into the bathroom, wash their face, and give them a much needed lesson on history and racism. Some people need an education and sadly had no one in their lives challenged their beliefs. Be that amazing person for them. It’s a tough conversation, but a necessary one.

Now go have a safe, and smart, Halloween!

Stop “whiting-out” racism

Wednesday I was listening to a discussion about white privilege. When presenters would bring up situations where they hurt suomeonewit racist actions or remarks, they called the situations “mistakes.”

The conversation did not make me feel uncomfortable in the way it should have to provoke my development, but the continued use of the word “mistakes” and discussion of “whiteness” as it affects white people made me very uncomfortable. (Note: the whiteness of white people affects all people who are not white. That’s who best understands whiteness. We white people are products of our white privilege but do not get to “woe is me and my ignorant state of whiteness”). This proves we white people have to learn how to respond and properly classify situations when we allow our privilege to interfere with our civilized behavior.

When you are racist, you hurt someone. You perpetuate by example what you did, which is racism.

Let’s pause here. Note I said, “When you are racist…” This does not mean you have to have ill-intent or identify as a racist to be racist. You could be completely ignorant of the situation or how your actions are racist, but this does not give you a pass.

When you are called out on your racism, do not be defensive. Take a breath. This person is telling you how you were hurtful to them or someone else. They don’t want an apology, but a simple, “I am sorry for (racist behavior) and should be a better example” is a good start. It is a good start. You need to work with the individual(s) you hurt to repair that relationship.

If you are called out in a group setting, own up to your  behavior, ask the person if you could talk further after the session, and move on. Maybe you did not mean to be hurtful, but you need to know how to avoid being hurtful to people in the future.

These are not “mistakes” they are situations in which you hurt another human being by insulting their identity. Call them for what they are, stop calling them “mistakes,” and understand what to do when you are called out.



Critical Thinking from NPR

Note:  Although these stories were on NPR on Friday, this post was a process over a few days due to one evil sinus infection. 🙂

The first news item that struck me was about a Spanish Lake documentary.  A former resident was making a documentary about Spanish Lake.  The main focus was about race and why St. Louis remains so divided. Here is a KETC piece on Spanish Lake from a few years ago.

Last month even I saw a BBC Story about St. Louis Divided.  BBC.  The BBC is writing about our small city and our racial division. We’ve made the news, folks, but not in a good way.

Spending much of my life in St. Louis, the division is evident.  The inequality is there. I have had close family friends of non-white heritage harassed for driving through upper-class neighborhoods. It’s heartbreaking and embarrassing.

How in St. Louis are we going to get beyond this stigma?  It’s not this or that race moving into the neighborhood.  There are people who do crime in all races.

Let’s focus on crime.  What motivates crime? Is this person angry, greedy, or maybe just hungry? Needs to pay the rent? We need to look further into what motivates individuals to do crime; was this crime just because or maybe because of family needs.  Crime might be more prevalent in one particular race because the majority works hard to put them there.  We work hard at our prejudice in St. Louis to be sure fewer African Americans and other minority races have fewer good paying jobs.  Fewer housing opportunities. Less educational opportunities because there are fewer tax dollars to pay to schools, parents are always working and not able to focus on homework help, students might have to eventually work too shifting focus away from school. Etc. Etc.

This is a cycle.  If we keep doing what we’re doing or do nothing, this will continue.  It might get worse, but certainly it will not get better.

Second item to catch my attention was about bullying and even a new documentary about bullying.  The one way other students can combat bullying is to not give the bully an audience and even advocate for the student being bullied.  It is difficult to be the one to speak out, but sometimes it can make a huge difference.

I am glad schools are taking bullying more seriously now than they did when I was in school.  Many times administrators and teachers would turn the other cheek to me being bullied, physically and verbally, and then I’d get in trouble for standing up to the bullies, physically and verbally, while they got away with it.

I even took up a habit of standing up for other students who were being bullied.  The bullies backed off. The students acted like I’d done something amazing.  Why shouldn’t we stand up for others?

To me, bullying was dumb.  Why not just be friends? Was that so strange of a concept?

My daughter is now in kindergarten and experiencing the first tastes of bullying.  Is she the bully? No. The victim? No. She’s the advocate.  I am so proud of my outspoken, stubborn little 6 year-old for standing up for those other girls and asking the bully why she says mean things.  I was so happy the day she came home from school frustrated because a girl who said “not nice things” to other girls wanted to be Kari’s friend, and Kari just wasn’t comfortable with that on account of her actions.  No, not happy because she didn’t know how to navigate the social waters even we struggle with in adulthood, but because she at 6 years-old knew what was right, recognized the wrong, and wanted to stand up for the other person.  This is what will change bullying.  Teaching advocacy and that it’s ok to say you’re not ok with the behaviors of others.