Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is blackface the new black? Minstrelsy reveals its shockingly durable appeal

Earlier in the week, when I posted about Harry Connick Jr. and the blackface controversy, NG Blog pointed out that in a recent episode of Mad Men, a character was featured in blackface and "no one's made anything of it." I had not seen the episode and wanted to learn more. According to the IMDb Mad Men synopsis:

Roger Sterling [played by actor John Slattery, pictured at left], in blackface, serenades his new young bride with a rendition of "My Old Kentucky Home."

Considering that the drama, Mad Men, takes place in the 1960's and represents a time in history when this kind of entertainment was not uncommon, the scene is not offensive because it was meant to illustrate the past. The key word here is past - as in - past history. In a great article called, "Is blackface the new black?" writer, Mary Elizabeth Williams puts things into perspective. Below is an excerpt.

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes:
Earlier this season on “Mad Men,” Roger Sterling decked his face in shoe polish and sang about “the darkies” to an amused crowd at a garden party. It was startling and uncomfortable in classic “Mad Men” fashion, an illustration of how far we’ve come since those less enlightened days of the early '60s.

Or maybe not.

This week, on the Australian variety show “Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday,” a group calling itself the Jackson Jive appeared in a “tribute to Michael Jackson.” Out strutted five men in Afro wigs and blackface, shimmying like jumping beans to “Can You Feel It?”

Guest judge, Harry Connick Jr., spoke up. After giving the act a resounding score of zero, he eventually said, “We’ve spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see that we take it to heart ... If I knew that was going to be part of the show, I wouldn’t have done it.”

The reaction to the “Jackson Jive” has been mixed. While the host of the show promptly apologized for the act, many in Australia have wondered what all the fuss was. Online posters have called Harry Connick Jr. “just another uptight American with no sense of humor.”

In a poll on, 81 percent of respondents said the sketch was not racist, with other newspapers clocking in with similar percentages.

Perhaps this can be what is popularly known as a teachable moment.

So here it is:

What should be obvious to anyone who isn’t a complete moron is that a little something called the entire history of Western civilization -- what with the slavery and the colonization and the genocide -- disqualifies us from mocking people for their color as grounds for entertainment.

It’s just that simple.


Bravo to Harry Connick, Jr. for making a public stand against racist imagery! Watch the video below.