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Follow-Up On Blackface
State of Race
America Circa 2019
This seemed to me an exchange worth underscoring:
February 8, 2019
It's difficult for white people, myself included, to appreciate the visceral reaction that people of color have to the imagery of someone in blackface, much like the reaction to the Confederate flag. So while it's a good thing to educate ourselves, and to explore our own racial attitudes, we have to accept that we can never really "know" it.
That's why we should never presume to understand or to judge it.
Most white folks don't get that it isn't just humor. Blackface is a dehumanizing act, donned to reaffirm white supremacy. It declares that the people being mocked, compared to their god given greatness, are worthless pieces of excrement. That is its history. A history, sadly, most people aren't knowlegable of. Even some blacks, who were taught that being taught history didn't allow old wounds to heal, don't know and answer when asked "no, I don't find it offensive" -- and that I find appalling.
I don't know... For me, the sharp cusp of this perceptual dilemma is "Amos 'n' Andy".
As a kid, I found these characters warm, positive and timelessly funny. They were relatable and sympathetic. Yet I can understand that, from a modern black perspective, they seemed negative stereotypes. Certainly the slow-motion "Lightnin'" represented a lazy black man right out of a minstrel show caricature, but the rest of the characters seemed much richer and more universally identifiable and sympathetic.
I'm sure it didn't help the case for this show that it was created and played on radio by two white guys, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. But on TV, the characters were played by a talented all-black cast who created fully-realized portrayals led by Spencer Williams and Tim Moore.
The show's albeit fictional vision of Harlem in the 1950's was of a vibrant community filled with diverse and, forgive the expression, "colorful" people, and was for decades the only place a broad American television audience could experience black life and come away with a genuine affection.
A follow-up thought:
White audiences in the 1950's didn't generally object to "The Honeymooners" as a negative stereotype, despite the fact that they lived in a squalid tenement apartment with a view of a fire escape, because we had so many other idealized white family archetypes.
Therefore the fact that Ralph was a brutish low-wage bus driver, verbally abusive to his long-suffering housewife Alice and his friend Norton was a moron who worked in a sewer, it just came in odd juxtaposition to the countless, reassuringly conformist upscale white television families. There were no Huxtable's or "The Jefferson's" to offset the relatively meager circumstances of "Amos 'n' Andy".