Another View on Blackface

In these politically sensitive times in which we live, Megyn Kelly is the latest media personality to lose her television show based on comments she made regarding the acceptability of using ‘blackface’ as a part of one’s Halloween costume.  After considerable backlash on social media, Kelly apologized for her remarks to her colleagues and to the public. No matter, NBC News reacted swiftly to her comments by cancelling her show and contract.

While Kelly’s comments may have been offensive to many, I know of one case when the use of ‘blackface’ was used to combat racism.

I spent several years as a ‘hockey Mom’ when my son was in middle and high school. Hockey is one of those sports which attract predominantly white players.  One view holds that hockey is the last of the major sports in which white players dominate. Hockey was also one sport where the use of racial, ethnic, sexist or religious slurs were a routine part of games during the years in which my son played. The old adage, ‘I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out’ aptly described the sport back in the 1990s and 2000s.  I don’t know of any other youth sport where parents took turns monitoring their team’s fans in the stands during hockey games. Despite the negativity associated with hockey, it is one of my favorite sports when played well.

In the 1990s, the Evanston Township High School hockey team had a very talented African American player. His reputation preceded him wherever the team played. In true hockey fashion, the goal of the opposing team was to get this player thrown into the penalty box, and the easiest way to accomplish this was to call him a racial slur. With their best player in the penalty box, the ETHS team had a more challenging time trying to win games.

To combat this situation, the ETHS team decided they would make it difficult for their opponents to determine who the black player was. When playing a team known for being particularly racist, they played the game in blackface. Imagine the consternation of the opposing team and their fans when all of the ETHS players showed up on the ice in blackface. There were no rules against wearing blackface, so despite protests from the opposing team, the game was played as scheduled. One ETHS hockey parent noted that he was proud of how the players themselves devised this solution for handling racist behavior during games. Rather than engaging in physical confrontations over the use of racial slurs, simply make it impossible for their opponents to know who to target.  Their innovative solution worked and most importantly sent a strong message that the ETHS team wasn't going to tolerate racism even if the hockey league did.  An appropriate use of blackface if ever there was one.

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