Blackface And the Irrationality of Rationalization Within Systems of Racial Oppression

This post is my commentary on some of the comments to this post entitled Blackface and Bloodstains which I reblogged at  The original post is located here

No, some white people, you are not, never have been, and never will be victims of Black oppression in this country.
No, some white people, some of you still do not fully understand the nature of the oppressor/ oppressed relationship.  Evidence?  You read James Baldwin, and you feel insulted.  Evidence?  You didn’t really read and think about the implications and assumptions embedded in your comments to this post before writing them  Why don’t you read James Baldwin and actually THINK about what he’s saying?  Why don’t you read James Baldwin and try as hard as you can to put yourself in the shoes of James Baldwin?  Because if you haven’t, you haven’t really read James Baldwin.  Why don’t you read over your comments to this post and really THINK about the implications and assumptions of your comments?  Or perhaps I’ll do it, since there is very little chance you will.

Let’s start with this one.
1) “I don’t normally reply to these articles, but I have to speak up.
Just because an outfit is in poor taste, doesn’t mean that they can’t wear it. Flip the roles if you will. Are you offended when a minority dresses as Hitler? or George Bush? By the rationale you propose “Western-Europeans” should be. Your article is at the very heart is racist and segregationist at the same time. The fact that people feel more comfortable today expressing themselves across cultures and ethnicity is the true statement of their lack of racism and their willingness to express themselves as they see fit.
You have a right to be offended, true. But I still have a right to express myself.
Also, if you look at the actual history of Halloween you will see that it is all about ACTUAL dead people. Get your facts straight please. Stop perpetuating your racism and let human nature and humor live on.”

Im confused.  Does having a willingness to express yourself as you see fit (How else would you express yourself?) mean that you can’t be racist?  Are the two mutually exclusive?

From the author, “Blackface is tied directly to minstrel shows and the larger exploitation of black people during slavery and Jim Crow.”
I’m confused.  You think treating this awful image and depraved caricature of Black people so flippantly as to wear it as a costume constitutes “people feeling more comfortable today expressing themselves across cultures and ethnicity.” That’s not expressing across anything. The culture you are referring to was a shared or rather an imposed culture. Whites owned it. Blacks suffered under it. So no one is moving across anything. This has everything to do with the perverse need to commercialize every possible stereotype out there. It represents the commodification of culture.  Did Julianne Hough know anything about the culture represented in the costume she was wearing? No!!!  You can’t transcend cultures if you don’t know what culture your transcending. Transcending is not synonymous with ignoring. Transcending is not synonymous with forgetting. Transcending is to acknowledge and move to what would generally be called a higher state of being. It’s a comparative term. You can’t move higher from nothing. You have to move higher from lower. That would mean understanding what constitutes “lower” and why it is “lower” and why you want to move from lower to higher. Your understanding of what it means to express yourself across cultures is severely lacking and doesn’t even apply in this situation since it is a shared culture between Blacks and Whites. No one can say we live in a post-racial society unless we make the effort to eliminate racial stereotypes from our lives totally and completely. And that includes not treating them flippantly as to display them as a part of commodified culture. Explain your logic. Is this an aspect of our culture that we should admire? Is it an aspect of our culture that should be so normalized as to become commercialized? I assume you have no problem then with someone dressing up in a costume representing a Nazi caricature of Jewish people. I would. How about not just Blackface, but Blackface in chains and with a person behind them carrying a whip and pretending to lash them?  Your argument is so weak. If you are all right with Blackface you automatically have to be all right with those representations according to your logic.
The object of the exercise is to put yourself in another’s shoes which Americans tend to be very bad at doing.  How can anyone pretend to understand the feeling of intense racial oppression if they’ve never felt it?  How can anyone tell a person who is oppressed “Oh your just making up excuses, you’re just overly sensitive, you’re just a big crybaby” when they have never stepped in that person’s shoes and never lived a day or a week or a month or a year as that person?  Well I can think of several reasons why…self- absorption, ignorance, the illogical and irrational feeling that this person is somehow implicating you for their oppression at the hands of others, the irrational need to defend the immoral actions of a person who may have the same skin color or ethnicity or religious background or any other superficial characteristic as you.  As it turns out none of these reasons are good reasons. I don’t pretend that I can ever fully comprehend the magnitude of the oppression that Black people have suffered in this country and continue to suffer. I got a taste of Israeli oppression and humiliation of Palestinians at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel when I was singled out for my Arab/Muslim descent before I even stepped foot in the airport and got strip-searched and put through a separate screening process that took an extra hour and a half long. Was that humiliating? Yes. Did I feel dehumanized? Yes.  Do I pretend you or anyone else who has not experienced the same thing would fully understand?  No. I don’t care what your intent was. I don’t care if you think of yourself as racist or not. This is not about anyone individual. It’s not about you, and that is what so many people who cry “overly sensitive” don’t understand. Stop thinking about yourself for one second. It is about a caricature. It is about a system of oppression that apparently is now so forgotten and so disregarded that it has become commodified. To forget is to ignore. And to ignore is to devalue. And to devalue is essentially to say to Black people our shared history, and by that I mean the shared history between Blacks and Whites, is not important. The object of the exercise is to acknowledge that the stereotype is offensive no matter how it’s used, and when it becomes commodified like in a costume that automatically means it is devalued for what it originally was, which was a representation of the historical oppressor/oppressed relationship between whites and Blacks. It’s not offensive because I think it’s offensive. It’s not unoffensive because you think it’s not offensive. It’s offensive because it represents subjugation, no matter the intention of the person wearing it or in your case, the person defending it.  Slavery was offensive because it was the practice of subjugation. Do we really care whether the slave driver thought it was offensive or not?  Do we care whether the slave driver thought it was wrong or not? And to be sure, he didn’t think that. He thought he was inculcating Christian values. He thought he was civilizing the uncivilized. He thought he was far more moral than the person he was exploiting.  Put yourself in the shoes of a Black person who has descendants who were forced to participate in these minstrel shows and experienced oppression under slavery and Jim Crow. They were treated as commodities, not as human beings. The image that was built up over time was of a commodity. It was part of white culture. The image belongs to Whites, not to Blacks, and now Whites, by defending it are, in truth trying to distance themselves from it.  They are responsible for it, and they are responsible for eliminating it. How can Blacks be expected to remove an image of them that was not of their own creation? It’s like saying I created this product and it doesn’t work but you are responsible for it. Doesn’t make any sense.  Do Black people have to show that they are not worthy of the Blackface caricature? That’s equivalent to asking, Did Black people have to show that they weren’t worthy of slavery? To the second question, no, but many white people at the end of the civil war thought they did. To the first question no, but white people certainly are obligated to work as hard as they can to eliminate the vestiges of that time period. And no that responsibility doesn’t stop at eliminating the actual institution of slavery. It also refers to the mindset, the modes of thought, the systems of rationalization that develop as a result of the oppressed/oppressor relationship. To think that America has eliminated that mode of thought is to ignore the facts (the image of the Have you ever heard of the image of the Black welfare queen an image of an overweight Black woman on welfare who is getting goodies like food and housing (serious luxuries there) that she doesn’t deserve, which is an entirely false and unjustly generalized carcicature, just to name one).  Furthermore to think that that this mindset could have been eliminated by now is also absurd and naive (although of course that’s not an excuse to say we shouldnt continue working to eliminate it). We are just 150 years removed from the abolition of slavery and 60 years removed from the civil rights movement and its gains of solely political rights for Black people, to say nothing of economic parity.  These are very short periods of history when one considers how long and the severe degree to which Black people of all ethnicities were oppressed by white people not just in America but also across the world.  The economic situation for Black people happens to be much worse than it was 30 years ago.  If anything human nature demonstrates that it takes a very long time to eliminate poisonous ways of thinking from our psyches.  But according to your logic if it’s part of human nature it’s admirable no matter what we are referring to.  The burden is on the oppressor which happened to be white people to eliminate the unequal relations because they are the ones who created them. The responsibility of creating a post-racial society falls primarily, if not completely, on the shoulders of white people since they were the ones responsible for creating a society of unequal race relations in the first place.  That’s not a racist statement. That’s called an acknowedgement of guilt. That’s called owning up to stuff.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re 100 years old or 20 years old.  Attitudes are passed on. Culture is passed on. Beliefs are passed on.  We have the freedom and the responsibility to alter those poisonous attitudes, that poisonous culture, those poisonous beliefs that came before us. That’s called taking responsibility which some white people love to point to Blacks and say they’re not taking responsibility, when in fact it is still the system of unequal relations that is oppressing them, although not to the same degree as 150 years ago.  The author is not being racist.  He is placing responsibility where responsibility lies, with white people.  It is some white people who refuse to take responsibility and prefer to shift blame. It is some white people who are stupid enough to believe the caricature of the Black welfare queen without looking at the facts in an unbiased and objective fashion. It is some white people who are stupid enough to believe that some Black people would prefer welfare to the dignity of work that pays a good wage (there’s no dignity in work that pays a crappy wage so stop criticizing people for not being willing to take the shitty wage job)  It is some stupid, entitled white people who are more concerned with poor Black people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (while they have a family to provide for) than with the corporations who employ them paying them a living wage. It is some white people who are stupid enough to believe that because there are Black obese and overweight people who are also on welfare, oh that means they are living large (the cheapest food happens to also be the least nutritious and most processed and most filled with saturated fats, high sugar, high salt etc)  It is some stupid, entitled white people in this country who believe that redistribution of wealth only applies when it goes from the poor to the rich, when in fact we already have the biggest wealth redistrubution system in the entire world….from the rich to the poor. Ever heard of corporate welfare?  Ever heard of the shift of wealth from labor to capital.  If not, you must have willful blinders on.  Now that’s living large. That’s the mindset of the oppressor. It’s called rationalization. The slave drivers did the same thing. That’s what human beings do when they can’t own up to the immorality of their actions, beliefs, attitudes, as well as the immorality of the system. That’s a part of human nature. And is the freedom to offend really the highest freedom you want to aspire to? There exists no right to be offended and there exists no right to offend. There is the freedom to express yourself, but that’s not the same as a so-called right to offend. You have the freedom. You don’t have the right. The author is not compelling you to stop speaking your mind, as you seem to think when you proudly boast that you have a right to express yourself. Um who’s stopping you?  Who is stopping Julianne Hough from expressing herself? She can go out in Blackface tomorrow if she feels like it (Is there a law against it? Because I think that law would violate our constitution) , if she doesn’t care about what some other people think. She has the freedom to not care.  No one is disputing that and no one is trying to take away that freedom That is what this is really about. It’s about not caring about what other people think. It’s also about not wanting to care. It’s about sticking to your guns no matter what logic flies in the face of your faulty reasoning that we’ve heard over and over again and it’s frankly nothing new. It takes a pretty courageous person to publicly and even privately change their views on something in the face of logic and facts and just plain empathy, more courage then it takes to stick to their guns. Who is stopping anyone who shares your viewpoint from expressing themselves?  The author is not taking away your freedom, unless you think criticism of your viewpoint constitutes an infringement of your freedom of expression which in that case, you really don’t care about freedom of expression then… you?…unless it’s your freedom to express. He is however pointing out very real problems with the logic and sentiment of your viewpoint as am I. Whether you want to acknowledge our arguments or not is up to you, but don’t act like we are taking away your freedom to say and think and do whatever the hell you want. Because we’re not.  No one’s oppressing you.  Get that straight.

2) While your post is spot on in many ways, that’s just what we need is a more sensitive nation! Of course I say that sarcastically. Yes, the Trayvon costume was of horrible taste but why is it wrong for Hough to dress as a black character. Is Hough a known racist? No. So, if I decide to dress up as Lebron James next year, am I all of a sudden a horrible person? I’m tired of the actions of whites being restricted by issues that occurred well before our time. No, I’m not a racist but I do despise the double standard involved when throwing that term around. Again, I agree 100% with parts of your post and it is very well written.”

I’m sorry.  Is Lebron James an offensive caricature of Black people created by Whites within a system of oppression?  Do you think before you compare apples and oranges?  There’s no double standard.  There’s no restrictions being place on your freedom of expression.  There is criticism being expressed of your viewpoint.  If you think that constitutes restricting your freedom of expression, then I guess you really don’t care about freedom of expression then, unless of course freedom of expression is synonymous with the freedom to not experience criticism.  On  the contrary, comments like yours apparently show that we have a long way to go in becoming a more sensitive nation.  That’s not sarcastic by the way.  Next time think before you write, or do you feel that criticism is a restriction of your freedom to express.  That’s sarcasm, by the way.

3) “FWIW… Orange is the New Black is based on a book about a white woman in prison. If Native American costumes are bad then I suppose people who wear green on St. Patrick’s Day are insensitive to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845.

I agree with blackface, KKK, and other insensitive costumes, but you lose me at Native Americans.”

Native American costumes are a white’s caricature of Native Americans. born out of a system of oppression.  Enlighten us about the origin of the color green with regards to its representation of Irish people.  Apparently we can not get away from the tendency, in commenting on this blog post, to compare apples to oranges.  With regards to you being Native American, can a Black man who’s very successful in life start to forget about the racialized system of oppression that exists in this country, because he really no longer has to deal with it?  Can there be a Black man who has absorbed the mentality of the oppressor, who thinks that just because he has success that automatically means the opportunity is open to every single poor Black person in this country to have success?  Ever hear of Congressman Allen West, the guy Republicans like to use as their token Black guy for proving they are not racist?  Ever hear of President Barrack Obama and his ignorant personal responsibility speech at Morehouse College, while he, the damn first Black President of the United States, has not done one thing to improve the economic condition of Black people in this country and has actually done a lot to make it worse?  I ask why is the burden of responsibility always on the oppressed rather than the oppressor.  Answer: Because that’s the way the oppressor likes it.  Again, think before you write.

4) ” guess I’m a racist.
”  I don’t understand how dressing like another culture is a bad thing? Aren’t we supposed to embrace each other? Why didn’t you show any ‘white-faced blacks’? Is it racist for a black man to dress like Trayvon and a Hispanic male as George? I dressed like octi-mom one year, was that ok as we were both white? What if I were black? Would that be racist? Or too close to reality?
Yes, I think your post is a bit too sensitive. Look at the facts, many of these costumes reflect things that have happened in our history. Good for bad, if someone wants to represent it, they shouldn’t be ridiculed for it. If you’re offended, look elsewhere.”

Oh this one’s a real doozy.  It’s the best example of a person who doesn’t think before she writes.  Yes, embracing an offensive caricature of a Black person created under a system of oppression constitutes you embracing the real culture of Black people, not a terrible aspect of white culture.  Blackface is not Black culture.  It’s white culture.  But then according to you all cultures are equal no matter what they represent.  How about for next year’s Halloween you dress up as a victim of female genital mutilation, a practice common in some patriachal Arab cultures.  How about next year you dress up as a Nazi caricature of Jewish people?  How about next year you dress up as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner?  I’m sure everyone at the party will laugh their socks off. I think the author looked at the history.  There’s no need to tell him to look at the history.  You are the one who has not examined the historical context.  Octi-mom, as far as I know, is not an offensive caricature created under a system of oppression.  Again, stop comparing apples to oranges.  Ridicule?  Now ridicule is synonymous with “criticism of a measured tone.”  I’m sorry.  Did it appear the author was personally insulting and screaming at you through your computer screen?  And with regards to a Black man dressing up as Trayvon, why in the world do you even consider that a potential Halloween costume?  And yes that would be offensive, not least because it denigrates the memory of a real person in its reduction of their memory to a mere commodity.  Just because a Black man, in your hypothetical example, would be doing it doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.  The offense is in the action, not the color of the person’s skin performing the action.  What exactly should the author look for elsewhere?  White-faced Blacks?  As far as I know, white-face doesn’t exist as a caricature of white people.  As far as I know whites were never systematically oppressed by Black people.  You can’t play the victim if you were never the victim.  You talk about reality.  Get in touch with it.  No I don’t think you’re racist.  I think you have no idea what you are talking about.  I think you fall into that category of compulsive rationalizer.


I write to dialogue. So please, let's engage each other in some dialogue.

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