Blackface and (Re)Educating Whitepeople: Who’s Talking and Who’s Really Listening?
Halloween has come and gone, and it’s brought its customary share of mis-educated whitepeople darkening their skin and once again unveiling how the racist memory of minstrelsy, of performing and mocking Blackness, continues to trickle within white communities. As usual, there have been several insightful blogs unpacking the racism, some attempting to school whitepeople, some educating us all about blackface, etc. Though many of these blogs have offered valuable insight, one important thing many of these blogs have admitted to is that the re-occurrence of blackface every Halloween is inevitable. It is this admittance of the inevitability of blackface during Halloween that concerns me, because it speaks to an anxiety about the perceived and undeniable inevitability of racism itself. For me, the re-occurrence of blackface and our belief of its inevitability call up three things: 1) It raises the question of how we feel about the power of our own writing and discourse. Perhaps believing that there is some futility in anti-racist discourse. And yet, it does mean that 2) we are in effect talking to ourselves, and so the question becomes 3) what does anti-oppressive culture-crossing discourse really look like? Especially since many of the prime perpetuators of racist and other oppressive acts may have few networks that will lead them to the blogs, books, and people who can free their consciousness to levels of higher and more loving thinking.
Of course, many of us have very little interest in “educating” others. Some blogs–like Black Girl Dangerous—have made it very clear that the people who “don’t get it” so-to-speak, are not its intended audience. And in many ways, those of us who come from marginalized communities should prioritize undoing and demystifying the internalized –isms that many of us are still reeling from. As such, there can be no time wasted in educating racists about blackface when we could be fighting colorism in our own communities. Or celebrating the complexity of Black culture for ourselves. That makes perfect sense.
But beyond blackface, I do wonder what it means to prioritize and take care of our own within a system of perpetual and and reoccurring systemic harm? Surely this is not a dichotomy; we can act to interrupt oppression while still prioritizing the intra-uplift of our own communities. Quite frankly, the two cannot exist without each other. But there is a redundancy of racism that infuriates me. I speak here not necessarily here of structural racism, but rather these mundane micro-aggressions, year after year we are telling whitepeople not to touch our hair, not to wear our skin, not to use the N-word, that there is no such things as reverse racism, and every other tenet of undoing racist tomfoolery we can think of. At what point do we grow tired of saying the same things over and over again, and begin thinking about how our messages are being transmitted and taking root in the social fabric of our nation?
Who exactly are these messages getting to? Whose minds are we changing? How do we fight past this era of deep political polarization, when new media allow us to create what scholar Cass Sunstein refers to as “echo chambers,” where we use the Internet to only read and reaffirm our own viewpoints? How do we have true dialogue when our cities are still segregated and where there are few faculty and students of color and higher institutions of learning? Our writings, voices, and passions are valuable, and they need not be valuable for any reason other than the fact they save us. But on the flip side, on the side of creating equity through humanistic means like discourse and dialogue, might our efforts seldom be reaching the people they need to be reaching?
Of course, I am not here for educating the oppressor, and racism is not our problem (if you know what I mean.) But in some ways, it is. And I refuse to keep giving my people water in a burning house. And putting out those fires requires that we be creative and intentional about finding ways to make sure that we are heard across socio-cultural rifts. I, for one, refuse to accept racial antagonisms as an inevitability. But we must find ways of stopping these acts in ways that do not cause us continual harm, consternation, or distract us from taking care of the communities we come from.