BLACK FACE AIN’T THE SAME AS BEING PART OF THE BLACK RACE
Here in recent years, several White people have chosen to make increasingly popular again, an act that has become synonymous with being one of the most disrespectful things ever used to publicly and privately demean black people in this country’s history – putting on Blackface.
This past week, a White Prairie View A&M (PVAMU) freshman student, Brooke Merino, who is a soccer player on full scholarship at the university, caused a national stir and social media firestorm when screenshots of a selfie the California native posted on Snapchat surfaced showing her lying down with black tape over her face in line with the history of demeaning Blackface activity. Once several PVAMU students recognized her on Twitter, she immediately deactivated her Twitter account and deleted the racist picture. However, in the world of technology, where millenials are quick to screenshot images and posts from social media, users grabbed the image before Merino deleted it and began sharing it until it became viral.
In a caption that accompanied the Snapchat selfie, Merino says:
“When you just tryna fit in at your HBCU”
Of course, the acronym “HBCU” refers to a Historically Black College and University, of which Merino was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend to play soccer as a goal keeper for the school. Since the backlash concerning her racist Snapchat selfie, Merino has temporarily left the university and returned home to her family in San Diego, while her fate lies in the hands of the PVAMU Student Code of Conduct Board.
This past Monday, PVAMU president George C. Wright met with hundreds of PVAMU students, faculty and alumni to address the incident, and read a letter to the student body that came directly from Merino herself, claiming that she meant to post the selfie as a joke and that she was apologetic for not knowing what the term Blackface meant before being called out about her post that has gotten this level of backlash and attention.
In her letter read by President Wright, Merino laments:
“Being here, I have felt what it is like to be a minority, and I have felt uncomfortable. I have felt out of place. But, I knew that was going to be part of this journey of going to an HBCU as a White Hispanic student. I will admit that I was ignorant in my post. I was stupid for posting it without thinking more clearly about the consequences. But I’m not racist.”
Being that Merino chose to leave the university and deliver a letter to be read by the president of the university, versus being present to answer her critics and detractors herself, it is difficult to know the sincerity of Merino’s words or ask deeper questions to get to the root of why she felt like a minority or why she felt uncomfortable or why she felt this attempt at a joke would not have registered as a racist act in her mind.
Historically, Blackface originated during the 1820s and lasted to the 1890s, where White men would perform in minstrel shows as former Black slaves or slaves who served on the plantation. These White men, dressed in Blackface, would perform a variety of jokes that highlighted the absolute ugliest stereotypes about Black people imaginable in order to make the audience laugh. The more these White men would demean and make a mockery out of Black people, contributed to its popularity, which in turn, led many people to subconsciously view Blacks in the way they were being portrayed, and Blackface became the most popular form of entertainment in America.
One of the most famous examples of the Blackface era of entertainment was Jim Crow. The White man who played Jim Crow was named Thomas “Daddy” Rice, and he would wear Blackface, dance and sing a song called “Jump Jim Crow.” Interestingly, one of the main parts of the Jim Crow character was to be a loud and obnoxious nuisance to peaceful White people at a restaurant or on a train, which turned out to be the name states in the South used when they decided to pass laws that segregated Black people from public spaces and accommodations that were occupied or utilized by White people. Another famous example of the Blackface era of entertainment was Zip Coon. The White man who played Zip Coon was named George Dixon, and his character would dress up as an extremely egotistical, free Black slave who was over-the-top in his attempt to come across as a truly intelligent and dignified individual, although he consistently mispronounced words and looked extremely undignified.
Based on the success of these two characters, other White actors would dress up and paint their faces with black charcoal or paint and take their act to a more exaggerated level of appearance and disrespect. The White actors went even further with their disrespect, by incorporating Black women and Black children into their jokes and skits. The more demeaning and disrespectful they were, the more popular they became.
The history of Blackface in America is an ugly one, yet it is one that has seemingly been adopted by many young White people on college campuses across America.
Last month, Kansas State University student Paige Shoemaker posted a Snapchat image of her and her friend Sadie Meier, who is not a student at the university, where they are in Blackface with a caption that read:
“Feels good to finally be a N____.”
The Snapchat image began to go viral which caused Shoemaker to respond with an apology as justification for her actions and to try and bury the issue, saying:
“I am truly sorry that I have offended so many people. I am the furthest thing from racist, I am an incredibly accepting person and would never do something to intentionally poke at a race. I understand that me having Black friends doesn’t make it acceptable for me to use the word that I did. I have definitely learned to make sure I am more aware of my audience and to never use a derogatory term…I just want people to know that I didn’t put the facial mask on with the idea of taking a racist picture. It was meant for a select group of friends on my Snapchat. I am so incredibly sorry for all the lives that I have affected.”
Shoemaker was expelled from the university, but here is another apology, from another White person, who claims to know nothing about the racist and demeaning history of Blackface in this country, yet does it as a joke amongst friends.
While the PVAMU students, faculty and alumni await a decision on Merino, more needs to be said about the continuous disrespect African Americans experience in this country, as well as how naïve many White people tend to come across when caught in the act of being racist.
As we look at the current racial climate in the United States, it has become abundantly clear that many individuals have found it more and more comfortable to spew racist rhetoric and express racist actions in plain sight. There are some that boldly use the “N-word” without fear or reservation, and others who don’t have the guts to say it directly, but resort to using code words or using social media and Internet postings to express their racist views.
This is nothing new. As the old adage goes: “Same thing, different day.”