The Perpetuation of Blackface

Two girls attending Kansas State University have been suspended from the school. Why…?


Source: @JustDesmund Twitter

They posted this image on their Snapchat story, one of the girls followers screen-grabbed and posted on twitter, the administration was made aware, and what I believe to be an appropriate punishment was handed out. What should we make of this though? What sort of punishment can counteract and change behaviors? Is there a time in society when blackface and minstrel “performances” are so far gone that the stereotypes will be awash? When looking at an image such as this I am so disheartened, irritated, and truly wonder about these questions of change.

Although it seems as if this case has nothing to do with sitcoms and this course, after watching and reading for this week the connection became alarmingly clear. As this week has reminded us, the performance of blackface dates back years and years: from the time of blackface stage productions in the Jim Crow South to the on air radio broadcast of Amos ‘n’ Andy, which later turned into a television sitcom.

What is extremely sad is the fact that this is not the first or last occurrence of a blackface “scandal”. Remember when actress/dancer Julianne Hough dressed as Uzo Aduba’s Orange is the New Black character Crazy Eyes for Halloween, blackface and all. Or the HBO television show Angry Boys in which the actor uses blackface to portray one of his many characters. Or the viral video of a young white boy wanting to be President Obama for Halloween, and his parents allowing him to dawn blackface. I truly believe that no matter what the circumstance, and based on the history of blackface, there is no situation in which it can be deemed appropriate. In all situations it should be seen as disrespectful, racist, and potentially inhumane.

The performance of blackface, although thought to be private in this Snapchat situation, still exists today. What has occurred here is a perpetuation of stereotype and minstrel behaviors. This behavior passed down through radio, television, sitcoms, etc.


-Katie Nelson

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7 Responses to The Perpetuation of Blackface

  1. mediaphiles says:

    “I truly believe that no matter what the circumstance, and based on the history of blackface, there is no situation in which it can be deemed appropriate. In all situations it should be seen as disrespectful, racist, and potentially inhumane.” I’m not sure I entirely agree with your assessment that there is no situation in which blackface should be performed. It should certainly never be deemed appropriate, but what about media that depict the performance of blackface in order to make a point about it or show how damaging it is? I’m thinking of two examples specifically — Robert Downey Jr.’s performance of blackface in Tropic Thunder, and Glenn Howerton’s, Rob McElhenney’s, and Kaitlin Olson’s performances of blackface in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s “The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6” (season 9 episode 9). Leah’s post similarly discussed cultural appropriation in New Girl, and the general thinking is if the obliviousness, tone-deafness, or stupidity of the character committing such appropriation is the butt of the joke, then the joke succeeds, as it makes a point about how such acts are not ok. Such is the case with the performances of blackface in Tropic Thunder and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Is the performance of blackface acceptable when done in the purpose of starting a discussion and highlighting how wrong it is rather than perpetuating and condoning an act of racism?

    –Kevin Pabst

  2. mediaphiles says:

    You are exactly right. It is inappropriate. It degrades black skin because shows that what many people see and think of when they think of an African American person or any non-white person as the darkest shade of black they can think of – which is obviously a dehumanizing exaggeration of every brown shade of skin. This snapchat and other forms of “blackface art” are precise portrayals of ignorant play and racism in its rawest form.

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I am completely shocked that people would even THINK about posting something like that. It is incredibly sad that society still acts the way that it does. I had never heard of “blackface” before this class and I am saddened that America even approved of such racism. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would find the use of “blackface” amusing or entertaining…why can’t humans be treated like real human beings?

    -Allie Kleinman

  4. marymdalton says:

    I had read about the Kansas State situation but had not seen the blackface photo before. Nothing innocent about it, despite the printed apologies and protestations.

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