Back in Black…. the apparent resurgence of blackface


I wasn’t going to comment on the University of Michigan frat thing that’s been all over the news these past few days, as I don’t think I have anything terribly insightful to contribute toward our collective understanding of “ratchet pussy,” but I did have a somewhat related question that I wanted to pose to all of you out there in the audience.

Is blackface more prevalent this holiday season, or is it just that the press cares about it more this year than they have in years past? I mean, I know that there have been some high profile cases in the past, but it seems like everywhere I turn these past several days, I’m reading about the scurge of blackface, and I’m left wondering if perhaps there’s an epidemic at hand. If that’s the case, I’d like to know so that I can have “the blacface talk” with my kids now, before we encounter it in the grocery store, or something.

And, yes, I understand that the Theta Xi event in Ann Arbor was cancelled before any of the “brothers” had an opportunity to blacken their faces, but, having looked over all of the evidence, I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to assume that, had the university not stepped in, things could have evolved in that direction. Or, let’s just say that I wouldn’t have been surprised had I heard that a costume party hosted by a frat with only one black member calling for “bad bitches, white girls, basketball players, thugs and gangsters” attracted a white guy or two in blackface. But, regardless, it seems to me that blackface has been everywhere this fall… Whether it’s high school football coaches, celebrities, politicians, sports fans, Hollywood fashionistas, or just fun loving folks in Florida, it seems like every time I pick up the paper, I’m confronted by another asshole who thinks it’s hilarious to hide his pasty white skin beneath a thick veneer of black. (If you just follow one link, try the last one. It’ll take you to an article about a blackfaced white guy in Florida who attended a Halloween party as Trayvon Martin, accompanied by a friend who went as George Zimmerman.)

Before we move on, here’s the Facebook image used by the guys at Theta Xi to advertise their “Hood Ratchet Thursday” party on Facebook.


In their defense, they claim that the event was to be a celebration of rap music, and, by extension, black culture. Apparently, though, according to them, everyone just blew it way out of proportion. “I wish that we lived in an age where we as people could collectively celebrate the music that we consume without aggravating racial sensitivities,” said Theta Xi brother Allen Wu, in an editorial submitted to the Michigan Daily. (Clearly, they were just celebrating black culture when they encouraged attendees to dress as “basketball players, thugs and gangsters” and bring “white girls,” and those who took offense were just too sensitive.)

Regardless of intent, these actions have real consequences. A friend of mine was riding on an Ann Arbor bus a few days ago when they overheard a young African American U-M student talking with a friend on her cell phone. “She said her father assured her that U-M was diverse, but she feels like she doesn’t belong,” this friend told me. “Now she’s considering dropping out.” Apparently, she’d spoken out against the Theta Xi event in some venue, and had been called “oversensitive.”

Now, back to blackface, here’s a little background from Ken Padgett at

…Prior to the Civil War (1861-1865), pro-slavery Whites used the racist stereotypes as a way of countering the abolitionist movement. Performers defended slavery by presenting denigrating stereotypes of Blacks who supposedly needed the civilizing influence of slavery to keep them in check. Black slaves were portrayed as happy and content with their lot in life and fearful of life outside of the plantation.

With the dramatic increase in the popularity of minstrel shows in the years following emancipation, Whites continued to wear the blackface mask in performances that would serve to define the meaning of blackness for many Americans who by choice or geography had little contact with Blacks…

One last thing… I know the guys of Theta Xi are likely pissed off. Most folks don’t like being accused of being racists, especially when it’s not the case… and, for all I know, many of the folks who planned this event don’t deserve that particular label. (Stupid and racist, while they often overlap, don’t always.) As much as this might suck for them, though, I hope someday they realize just how fucking lucky they are that this costume party of theirs got cancelled. If the event had actually taken place, and photos of them pretending to be “basketball players, thugs and gangsters” had hit the internet, I’m quite certain that some of their young lives would have been ruined.

With that said, I don’t believe that blackface should be illegal. In fact, part of me thinks that it should be encouraged, as it would help us to easily identify the truly evil assholes among us… I mean, racists can look like anything, right? And that’s part of what makes it so insidious. Now, just imagine what might happen if we made black face paint easy to come by, and removed the stigma associated with blackface. Might it not be interesting to see which of your neighbors started “going minstrel” on the weekends?

For what it’s worth, I don’t get the whole blackface thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, I actually like quite a few black people, and I don’t feel the need to paint my face black. But yet racists, for some reason, do. I guess maybe they feel powerful, dressing up as those whom they perceive to be their inferiors, knowing that they have the ability to jump in and out of character at will. Personaly I don’t get it, though. I mean, I don’t really like frat boys all that much, but it’s never crossed my mind, not even for a second, to take off my shirt, drink shitty beer from a red plastic cup in my front yard, and throw footballs over passing cars.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted November 3, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    The truth is there’s more blackface activity today because the U.S. market is being flooded by cheap, black Chinese face paint. The Russians tried to destroy us by outspending us on nukes. The Chinese are smarter.

  2. Taco Farts
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    “I don’t really like frat boys all that much, but it’s never crossed my mind, not even for a second, to take off my shirt, drink from a red plastic cup in my front yard, and throw footballs over passing cars.”

    This is exactly the kind of statement that is holding back all the movements that have at their core the righteous desire for equality, but that just can’t get REVENGE off their minds. No one can resist proving that they’re exactly as prejudiced as the people they’re accusing of being prejudiced. I love you, Mark, I believe you’re a huge asset to the community, but shit, man. Chalk this one up to a long weekend. Anything you said before, and which may have been reasonable, gets to be ignored when you dive headfirst into any excuse to personally insult every member of a group of ‘others’ because a few of them think of a certain group as ‘others.’

  3. Posted November 4, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Fair enough, TF. I was trying to interject some humor where it probably didn’t belong, and, in doing so, maybe I lost sight of the point that I was trying to make, which wasn’t that I hate frat boys, but that I don’t get why people – especially racists – would dress up like those they profess to hate. I just find the whole thing really perplexing.

    As for frat boys, I don’t actually hate them. I do think, however, “greek” culture, at least as I’ve seen it practiced on campus over the past several decades, isn’t altogether positive. With that said, I know that they all aren’t classist, binge-drinking, homophobic date-rapists. I’ve known my share of good, decent frat members, and I imagine that most are just that. With that said, though, episodes like are hard to overlook.

    Can we all just agree that blackface is stupid?

  4. Beeno
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I call false equivalence, Taco Farts. People don’t choose to be black. They choose to be in racist frats, though.

  5. Thom Elliott
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Its funny, a represenative of the priviliged culture of entitled, racist, acquaintence raping, masculinist libertarians at the richest school in the midwest is complaining about being “othered”! Mark is too kind, the perfect host, whereas I want to laugh in your pink face! It isn’t an ethnic minority up for debate here, some oppressed group, we were talking about the grotesque brats of lawyers, drs, politicians ect WHO DO THE MAJORITY OF OTHERING IN GENERAL. You had planned a racist jamboree! a little of Maynards’ gental ribbing is the least you should get! If it were up to me you’d be breaking rocks in a workcamp!

  6. John Galt
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    While I’ve never gone outside in blackface, I do admit that, on very stressful days, I find it relaxing to come home after work, apply a healthy amount of black paint to my face and experience the carefree joy of the American black.

  7. koosh
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Just because you dress up as something doesn’t mean you hate it. Our daughter went as Sally Ride this year for Halloween. She sure as fuck doesn’t hate Sally Ride.

    If she wanted to dress as an astronaut she hated, she would have gone as Judith Resnik.

  8. Eel
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Is Resnik the one who traveled across the country in a diaper to kill her rival? If so, I think that would have made the better costume.

  9. anonymous
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    You’re right, Koosh, when you say that people who wear blackface don’t hate black people. They love them. In this instance, the men of Theta Xi love black people so much they even let one of them into their frat.

  10. koosh
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Al Roker wore blackface for Halloween on national television.

    Does Al hate blacks or does he just hate B.A. Baracus?

  11. Mr. Y
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    “we goin back to da hood again!!”


  12. anonymous
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I agree that we should make black face paint easily accessible. Everyone that wants to lampoon their black neighbors should be given that opportunity. All I ask is that we formulate the paint so that it can’t be washed off. Ever.

  13. koosh
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Can we all at least agree that “Soul Man” was cinematic brilliance?

  14. tommy
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m missing something here or I have a different opinion of what constitutes ‘blackface’. I don’t considering dressing up as Jamaican bobsledders, Travon Martin, or a ‘gansta’ or basketball player as what has traditionally been considered blackface. Poor taste and stupid – yes. Racist – probably. And yes, the press is making a bigger deal out of it than is necessary. The simple fact that Gawker can run a headline about about a black guy dressing up like a black guy as ‘blackface’ speaks to the lack of understanding of what this term meant in an historic context.

    If you haven’t seen the movie, watched Spike Lee’s ‘Bamboozled’. A brilliant movie.

  15. Elf
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Exactly that. I came here to make the exact same comment about Soul Man. Brilliant film. The problem with blackface today is that they aren’t as artful with it as C Thomas Howell.

    See for yourself.

  16. Meta
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    If I might be so bold as to tie together two recent discussions, here’s the recently departed Lou Reed performing “I Wanna Be Black”:

    Lyrics, so you can sing along:

    I wanna be black, have natural rhythm
    Shoot twenty foot of jism too
    and fuck up the jews

    I wanna be black, I wanna be a panther
    Have a girlfriend named Samantha
    and have a stable of foxy whores
    Oh, oh, I wanna be black

    I don’t wanna be a fucked up
    middle class college student anymore

    I just wanna have a stable of
    foxy little whores
    Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black
    Oh, oh, I wanna be black
    Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black

    I wanna be black, wanna be like Martin Luther King
    And get myself shot in the spring
    And lead a whole generation, too
    and fuck up the jews

    I wanna be black, I wanna be like Malcolm X
    And cast a hex
    over President Kennedy’s tomb
    and have a big prick, too

    Oh, I don’t wanna be a fucked up
    middle class college student no more
    Yeah, I just wanna have a
    stable of foxy little whores

    Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black
    I wanna be black
    I wanna be black
    I wanna be black
    I wanna be black
    yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I wanna be black
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
    I wanna be black
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I wanna be black
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
    (Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black, oh, oh)
    (Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black, oh, oh)
    (Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black, oh, oh)
    (Yeah, yeah, I wanna be black, oh, oh)

  17. tommy
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Hey man, why do I now have to do math to post a comment on your site? Trying to steer toward the intelligent blog readers only?

  18. Posted November 4, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    By the way, part of the ugly history of blackface is that light-skinned black performers sometimes had to wear it to appear black enough for a white audience — the brilliant comedian Bert Williams, for example, and some members of Ellington’s band when they were on camera. Better to just leave it alone.

    Man, that Lou Reed song is sophomoric. Was he an adult when he wrote that?

    I like the new arithmetic feature.

  19. Robert
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Remember when universities used to throw students out for being stupid? Man, that was harsh.

  20. Eel
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “It’s a family tradition!”

  21. Posted February 16, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Whites always look at INTENT, but Blacks look at IMPACT, ergo, it is intent vs impact. Blackface has racist origins, ergo, when whites use it, it is ALWAYS racist.

    Lately whites will put on BF and make themselves up to look almost like a normal Black person and think that that gives them a pass, WRONG! It is still BF. Tropic Thunder used BF and it too was racist as hell.

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