By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Blackface to Black people is in this realm of making a caricature out of an entire race. Blackface is a leftover from a time when Black men had to literally answer to being called ‘boy’ and could be hung for daring to show less than proper humility when subjected to such demeaning acts.”
— Russell Edwards
I was dismayed by the fact that I was asked to write this editorial. To me, it seems so clear.
My boss asked, “Some Asian immigrants don’t get why Blackface by non-Blacks are offensive. Can you explain?”
Growing up in Asia, I recall seeing only a handful of Black people. In general, the exposure to Blacks in Asia in extremely limited. On one hand, I can understand the ignorance from that standpoint.
On the other, I am appalled by the findings of a Pew study released on Feb. 11 that revealed that about one-third of Americans believe wearing Blackface for Halloween is “always” or “sometimes” acceptable.
“Blackface to Black people is in this realm of making a caricature out of an entire race,” my friend Russell Edwards, who is Black, explained. “Blackface is a leftover from a time when Black men had to literally answer to being called ‘boy’ and could be hung for daring to show less than proper humility when subjected to such demeaning acts.”
A common statement in defense of Blackface is that it is all in good fun, a joke, harmless, or not done with the intent to bother anyone. But just because you’re not offended doesn’t mean that it’s not insensitive or hurtful to someone else.
In many ways, your intent is irrelevant.
When someone says, ‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ the real question should not be, ‘Did I mean it?’ but, ‘Am I causing harm?’
Looney Tunes’ “Tokio Jokio” from the World War II era is probably one of the most racist cartoons of all time — portraying the Japanese as incompetent buffoons with giant teeth.
Mickey Rooney’s buck-toothed, taped-eyes portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s… classic yellowface. How is Blackface any more acceptable?
Edwards said, “I look to the swastika as a classic example of something that has multiple meanings, but has been corrupted by a particularly sinister chapter of human history. No Buddhist would intentionally visit her Jewish friend wearing that symbol.”
The legacy of white people darkening their faces grew out of the Civil War and Reconstruction era, and was featured most famously in the 1915 silent film, “The Birth of a Nation,” to portray Black people as moral degenerates who threatened white culture.
How can we move on from racism as a society if people are still blackening their faces or mocking a whole group?
“The portrayal of fellow humans as somehow less than human has led to some of the greatest atrocities,” said Edwards.
Think of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II, and Muslim travel bans.
Blackface is simply a painful reminder of crimes against our fellow humans