Man in blackface from minstrel show

This past September, Alabama governor Kay Ivey was found to have worn blackface while performing in a comedy sketch during her college years. Virginia governor Ralph Northam posed in blackface standing next to another college mate dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member in their 1984 yearbook. In 2013, David Sponheim, a Washington state mayoral candidate, wore blackface dressed as Barack Obama. In 2015, Bill Helton, another political candidate, this time in Oklahoma running for mayor, wore blackface in his drag performance.  

It would take more than my word limit to document all of the incidents of a politician being found out and called out for wearing blackface. Who are these people? They are white, male or female, Democrat or Republican, living in the North or South. They all apologize when found out to have this “spot” on their life. Some retire, step-down, but the majority of them apologize and keep on doing what they were doing in their political lives.  

Some, black and white, say that an apology is not enough. They say this but don’t really do anything, or protest for any length of time when an apology is all that they get. An apology is an acknowledgement and expression of one’s regret of an offense or failure. It is saying you are remorseful for the pain or harm you have caused another person. It shows you are ashamed of your behavior. Now, that is what an apology is, however that doesn’t mean that the person saying they are sorry, is sorry. Apologies without a change in behavior are worthless.  

There has been an increasing amount of television, newspaper and social media coverage in regard to politicians wearing blackface, more so it seems these past few years. As an African American I grew up in a time when seeing a white man wearing blackface was common – early black and white television comedy shows; old movies that cast white actors to wear blackface to portray black people. The blackface actor was always acting silly, stupid, lazy, disrespectful towards his black woman, on alcohol or drugs or trying to con somebody. Black people had to wear blackface themselves when acting in the first movies and television shows. It was very evident the emphasis was that the actor portraying the colored person, the negro, the blackie, look black as coal to ensure the stark contrast to the white person. That the images of black being negative, harmful, dirty and worthless compared to the images of white being pure, honest, good, clean and superior, be implanted into the deep consciousness of the brain of the person who watched and listened to the propaganda fed to them from the movie and television screens.  

So, is it any wonder that white people felt it was alright to dress up in blackface? They too, the older ones, grew up with these images implanted in their brains. They as children, like some black, Japanese (Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi), Russian (Yul Brynner in The King and I as King Mongkut of Siam) didn’t see or hear anyone saying it was wrong to not just hire a black person to play the role without blackface. In 1983 we had blackface in Trading Places. 1986 brought us Soul Man. It started with Birth of a Nation (1915). No one ever apologized for wearing blackface and nobody seemed to care.  It was just the way it was in the movies.   

What’s the difference now and why so much media attention on the politicians who wore blackface? Could it be to take our focus off of the fact that there are more important political issues that America should be focused on? Apologies from politicians who are sorry for their stupid, heartless, racist behavior when they were young and dumb are not on my top political list.  I want apologies for not passing gun laws that would prevent the senseless deaths of innocent children and adults that continue to occur in America. I want apologies for the deaths and mistreatment of children of undocumented immigrants and refugees. I want apologies for the increase in hate crimes since forty-five has been in office. I want apologies for voter tampering in our states.  

As voting Americans, we need to not be distracted and let the wool be pulled over our eyes. The main issue is not what someone did when they were young and wore blackface. It’s what they are doing now, are they sincerely remorseful for their past behavior, and have they demonstrated change since that behavior. Focus on the real issues so we vote for or against the issues that harm rather than improve life for us, the people, who live in America. Blackface apologies are distracting. Stay focused.

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