Tag Archives: blackface

Canada’s prime minister reminds us that it is not “a whole new world”

A picture has surfaced of Justin Trudeau, now the prime minister of Canada, wearing “brown face.”  To offer a comprehensive description, he also has a brown neck and hands at an “Arabian Nights” themed event back in 2001.  He is a 29 year old teacher– not a student– at West Point Grey Academy.  It’s a group pictured in a yearbook.  Sound familiar?

It’s at a private school and a private party, which only adds to my questions regarding the private lives of public figures, namely politicians.  They are supposed to represent the best of us.  They promise to represent all of us.  But, time and again, we are reminded that they only represent some, who don’t want to be lumped in, grouped with or counted as part of us.  No, all persons other than those socially colored white are mere costumes to be worn on special occasions, dressed up in on holidays and for one’s entertainment.  It is part of a masquerade.  Because the only real human being is the one underneath it.

And we have yet to peel back that layer and examine why persons continue to use the flesh of others for their amusement, why some hues warrant hubris and others our humiliation.

Why do human beings who share the same flesh and bones continue to make dressing in black or brown face an option on an Arabian night or any other?  Why not question yourself as you smear the paste or cream on your face, neck and hands?  What do you see when you look in the mirror when you are finished, when you have transformed yourself into the so- called other who is actually your sister and brother?  What do you find so funny about it?  Where is the humor in it?

And I cannot ask how would you feel if it happened to you because it won’t.  In fact, persons from other cultures who “act white” are applauded, promoted and pointed out as fine examples, the right way to be a human being.  Whiteness is a bully so you make fun of those who are not in your color click.  Still, where do you think this is going when you mock the image of another human being, who had no choice in their skin’s hue, same as you?  And really who do you think you are?

I ask again, “Who do you think you are?”  Your skin will wrinkle and rot in death the same as any other.  It does tear and bleed the same as mine.  It does bruise and swell upon injury.

But then there is this belief in the color white and its immunity.  It’s only social.  The sociopolitical construct of race is not even skin deep.  It only goes so far as the society would allow it and as the people in power would have it.

Trudeau has apologized. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” He didn’t think that the photograph was racist but he does now.  But, because someone else pointed out or he has a different perspective?

At 29 years old, he still didn’t know any better?  He didn’t consider it racist in 2001.  But he darkened his face while at Jean Brebeuf High School.  He was pretending to be Alladin at the annual dinner but this time, he was Harry Belafonte.  And then there was that time when he is wearing blackface back in the 1990s.  This one is on video.

Once, twice, three times a racist.

There is no need for a history lesson, diversity training, an apology tour, a dialogue with persons from the communities you have hurt, a town hall meeting on race relations, a new movie featuring two people from opposite sides of the track who crossed to the other side to find some sort of paradise in this divided world.  And stop apologizing.  Words are not enough.

Trudeau and others like him can talk a good game.  But, eventually it is revealed that nothing has changed, that progressive is but a name, that in private, they have no intentions of co- creating a whole new world where all are treated equally.  It’s just more of the same old racism.

Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo is actually a group picture

Associated Press

Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing a racist costume and has apologized.  In his 1984 medical school yearbook, there appears someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another in blackface.  Tonight, persons are calling for his resignation.

While I take issue with his decision to wear either “costume” as the history of pain and suffering that the blackface caricature and the terrorist actions of the Klan have caused African American people goes without question, I also can’t help but wonder, “Who stood beside Northam?  Who stood behind the camera to take the picture?  Who arranged the pictures in the yearbook?  Who proofed the final version and sent it to the printer?  Who published it?  Who signed his yearbook?”

Because racism is  a group effort.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but it  also takes a community to raise a racist.  Racism does not happen without consensus, without support, without the agreement that, in this case, African Americans deserve to be mocked.  Racism, this belief that one cultural group is better than another based on the amount of melanin in their skin, is not something persons just come up with on their own. 

The belief in human races and the supremacy of the so- called white man is not to be lumped in with Santa Claus, unicorns and tooth fairies.  No, this lie has an ugly history.  This blackface caricature and the Klan have been around for a long time.  This is hand me down racism, traditional stereotypes and hatred.  Who taught him this? 

Doesn’t he know that pictures of African American men and women were taken while being tortured and lynched?  That crowds gathered for this spectacle of injustice as they were dismembered and burned alive?  That the images were printed and sold as postcards, that persons shared these pictures like they would a photo with Santa Claus?  That the injustices inflicted upon African American people have been photographed and are now filmed from body cameras and cellphones?  That African American people have been seeing these images for a long time?

Did anyone in his family or in his circle of friends, his teachers or classmates tell him that this was mean- spirited, inappropriate, insensitive or racist?  And if not, why not?  This is the real conspiracy, that is to silence our conscious, to go along with this history of bullying, to put it on, to capture it in a frame, to make it apart of our personal memories.  This picture is apart of what he remembers about his time in medical school.

In 2017, African Americans made up almost 20 percent of the population in Virginia.  Tonight, I wonder how they are left feeling about the leader who is supposed to represent them.  There is no need to look at his heart; the yearbook picture is worth a thousand words and represents hundreds of years of humiliation for African American people.  I wonder why he didn’t see this in 1984 and why we still don’t see it now?

Because racism is not out of the picture.



Race is something to talk about

I’m not one to shy away from a conversation on race and today, Prada had an unplanned one after a passerby noticed a bag in the window of a shop in Soho.  There appeared to be a blackface accessory attached to the bag.  Cue the removal of the bag, a statement from Prada and another conversation on race.  Described as “monkey trinkets,” many people are asking, “How did this happen?”

“What year is this?”  “I thought we were farther along.”  But, should we be?  What have we said about race that propels us forward?  What of our conversations about race have brought understanding and healing?  When have our conversations about race not been reactive?  How have we prepared for conversations on race?

Still, we shuffle along, pretending that our cross- cultural relationships are all patched up, only to have someone point out another hole.  We missed a spot.  The job was rushed.  The material was not the best and thus, not able to withstand another brush with race.  We’ll deal with it later or when the time comes.  Well, here we are again.

Deep sigh.  “Why do we have to keep talking about race?”  Because questions of identity, belonging and membership continue to arise.  Because we are not saying what needs to be said.  And we don’t know what needs to be said.  Because we end the conversation at the first sign of discomfort or disagreement.

Because we give race the silent treatment.  Rather than have vulnerable conversations, we enter with our guard up.  We decide that we will only say so much.  We would rather be disingenuous than open up.

This means that our exchanges are not authentic.  Instead, we feign interest, outrage, empathy and/ or understanding.  We don’t invest much more than a head nod and a pat on the back.  “I just don’t know what to say.”  And if we are honest, we have not taken the time to learn what to say.

We don’t want to keep talking about it.  But, that’s the problem.  Conversations on race should be on- going.  We need to keep the conversation going so that the Prada bag never even makes it to the shop in Soho.

Trayvon Martin: Blackness and Halloween Costumes

Trayvon Martin.  Most Americans know his name and the story of his death.  But, now his name is strangely associated with Halloween.  Apparently, some persons think that it is acceptable to dress like a dead child and in blackface, no less.  I cannot even begin to describe the callousness of those who think it good fun to mock the tragic death of another and to suggest that one can represent a socially colored black person by painting their face black.

Rants on social media simply don’t cut it and a law can’t fix this.  Another conference will not make sense of it.  This is a matter for the heart and it is at the core of our humanity.  We must reconcile these truths, these choices to deeply offend.

And I don’t want to hear, “It wasn’t me.”  Or, “This was their poor decision.  We can’t blame everyone.”  No, I do blame all of  us.  What have we done or left unsaid if this is a choice?  What are we really afraid of?  And why does the taking of this child’s life not invoke fear in all of us?

And I don’t want to hear that Halloween has passed, that it’s old news now, that the matter is finished because the Facebook account has been closed and he has changed his profile picture.  This does not mean that the work is finished– because we don’t see it any more.  No.

And don’t let the fact that Trayvon Martin died three years ago imply that what happened to him is in the past.  Clearly, it is not; his life and his death now made present in the form of a costume.

Raven McGill offers words for us to reflect on at a National Poetry Slam.