Why Do I Still See Blackface On Halloween?

Seeing a white person in blackface as a part of their Halloween costume is something I’ve come to expect.

This year proved to be no different.

Starting in college, I’ve seen many variations of a “costume” that included blackface.  Of course the wearer of the “costume” always made a bee line for me and attempted to engage me in some type of exchange. 

Every last one of them is genuinely shocked when my reaction is a little less than enthusiastic. 

And when I say less than enthusiastic I mean death stare.

So when I saw an acquaintance dressed as Ronnie Woo-Woo on Saturday I was not thrilled.

He greeted me not too long after I walked in the bar but I think he had the good sense not to engage me any further when he saw the look on my face.

Later in the evening a mutual friend remarked that the blackface wearer wasn’t “that way”---implying that he wasn’t a racist. 

To be honest with you, and after a day or so of thought, I have to reluctantly agree with him.

I truly believe that he didn’t mean to offend me by his choice of costume and in his own misguided way, meant it as a tribute to Ronnie as he is a diehard Cubs’ fan.    

Nonetheless, knowing this person is an educator makes me question his overall judgment and cultural sensitivity.  What if one of his kids or their parents had seen him dressed like that?

Yet, whether we want to admit it or not, we all have made racial missteps and been culturally insensitive. 

Last Halloween my Antoine Dodson costume was mistaken for Aunt Jemima by a friend’s husband.  On a visit to London a few years ago I casually (and loudly) utter another culture’s version of the “N-word” without knowing the true weight of what I was saying.

While it was an embarrassing & regrettable experience, at least I had its’ memory to draw on when I see uninformed racism in the form of blackface. 

So my acquaintance got a pass. 

I didn’t go off on him.  I didn’t say one word to him aside from our initial exchange when I walked in.

But let me state this for the record---blackface is wrong.

It’s a little less offensive to me than burning a cross on my front lawn.

Don’t do it.

Blackface references a painful and dangerous point in American history for black people that wasn’t all that long ago. 

As a black person I’m reminded everyday how America views us.  I don’t need a crash course in insensitivity every Halloween.

As a side note, stop comparing your tan to my skin every time you get darker.  That annoys me too.


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  • Agreed. the make up that is closer to brown like what is used by actors on SNL is cool but the man tan stuff that's a no no

  • first off blackface is a bad idea, even if you don't mean to be racist. however, i don't think anyone's every burned a cross in your front lawn, or you've experienced the immense pain that black people in history experienced (lynching, beating etc.) don't use history as your reason. use your experiences and current racist acts (there are tons of them). on top of that, your remark "how America views us" is the most racist part of your article. American's aren't all white. You are part of america. there is a ton of racism in this country towards blacks. I know white people have an advantage in this nation but It's not going to get better until we ALL work to desegregate ethnic communities literally and in our minds.

  • In reply to mepeterser2451:

    @mepeterser----Trust me, you have no idea about my experiences with racism. As for being racist in how "America (and some other cultures) view us," I'm clearly making it *all* up. http://www.complex.com/video-games/2010/02/oh-no-they-didnt-the-10-most-racist-video-games http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124828546 http://www.next-gen.biz/features/why-are-black-game-characters-failing-audience?page=0%252C0&%2524Version=0&%2524Path=/&%2524Domain=.edge-online.com

  • In reply to WoodlawnWonder:

    that's what i'm saying. stop citing history, and share your experiences of how racism has affected you. if you say people who stop blackface because of slavery people are going to respond, hey slavery was abolished a long time ago. what you need to say is that racism is still a huge issue today and that is why we need to be more considerate when choosing our halloween costumes. i was even kind enough to give you a current example of racism, (ie you implied that Americans are white and you said that black people are a separate culture from white people). These are both very racist preconceptions and I'd like to correct you. You should have meant, "American white racists" and you shouldn't define all black people as their own culture. In fact, most black people in New England share more in common with my culture (I'm white) than they do with any black person here in Chicago. You may admit your mistake, but your statement shows that in your mind you are separating them and us. this city, chicago, is terribly divided due to race and having pride in your skin color is stupid and incredibly racist. you shouldn't define culture by skin color. having pride in your history is a whole different thing. but just because your neighbor is also black, doesn't necessarily mean they are family. erase the barriers and embrace peoples' differences. also, what I don't get is insisting on calling all black people african americans. do they call black people in canada "african canadians"? do i call myself german american since my grandmother came from germany? i have pride in my german heritage, but i'm not trying to link my skin color to my nationality. it's again, just reafirrming segregation.

  • In reply to mepeterser2451:

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -George Santayana

  • In reply to WoodlawnWonder:

    oh my god! you are sooo stupid! it's not about the past. it's about now and the actions and prejudices of today. Yes racism existed in the past. And it exists today. It's not a matter of repeating it. It's continuous. Stop trying to end slavery when it doesn't exist. It's irrelevant to the racism today, except as a reminder of what racism can do. Reminding people of the worst racist acts of history actually diminishes how bad racism is today and does not help your argument at all about blackface. Start talking about racism of today. i know people who use the N-word out of hate and would never even shake hands with a black person. they segregate blacks and whites in their minds as them and us. i am floored by the words that come out of their mouths especially since they are actually decent people. the only way to change the mind-set is to start integrating ethnicities, so it doesn't help to think of black people as a culture just because of their skin color or to say you aren't american because you are black. That is racism and I'm calling you out on it so that it can be changed.

  • I get what you're saying... but why is THIS ok? http://www.starzlife.com/wp-content/files/2009/08/white_chicks.jpg

    There's a double-standard- you're saying it's disrespectful of your ethnicity for those who are outside that ethnicity to go in costume as Black, yet here are two famous Black men dressing up in "white face" (if that's even a term) in the movie "White Chicks." Not even "White Women," but degrading them to "chicks."

    Also, a question to you- will we ever be past the point of offensiveness in a certain time in history? What you're referencing is something that started in the 1830's and ended in the 60's with the civil rights movement.

    A couple years ago I was out for Halloween and saw a man dressed as Hitler. I personally found it in horrible taste, and couldn't believe someone would dress as that, but not everyone felt that way, with some of my friends saying "It's just a costume." How offensive would you find that?

  • In reply to ChicagoDogGal:

    @DogGal---How did this post in anyway endorse the film "White Chicks?" That's quite a leap. While I can't speak for others regarding being past the point of offensiveness, perhaps that will happen as more people have a respectful and honest dialogue about race. I see it happening more and more. Hope springs eternal. BTW, Hitler in any form is distasteful, inappropriate and never EVER funny. I can't even believe that a business rents Hitler costumes. Disturbing.

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    I guess this is what people mean when they say this country is going soft. This PC non-sense needs to give way to more productive uses. Only a very fringe element is really racist anymore. Most of the country has moved on and elected Obama 3 yrs ago.

  • In reply to Mark Malave:

    @Mark---Fringe element? Unfortunately the Southern Poverty Law Center doesn't think so. http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/hate-map.

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    Wow. Your words make you seem quite ignorant. Hopefully your poor choice of words, which is humoring seeing that you are a blogger, is not indicative of your true intelligence. Maybe I just caught you on a bad day. You probably did not mean to say that you let somebody have a pass and "didn't go off on him" for doing something you describe as only "a little less offensive" than burning a cross in your front lawn.

    You must be an extremely good natured person. Grow some balls. Or is it that a white person using blackface in their Halloween costume is in no way close to burning a cross on your lawn? I certainly hope that it is the latter.

    People who still cling to the small and dwindling racist population and make a generalization about white people just make themselves look ignorant. Your inductive reasoning needs some work.

    I will thank you for one thing. I now know that if it is possible for someone with such flawed logic to write a blog connected with a well established publication such as the Chicago Tribune, certainly my journalism career will flourish.

    Screw newspapers! I'm starting a blog!!!

  • In reply to atrain5976:

    Just call me clingy @atrain. I look forward to your career in journalism and hopefully your upcoming blog on ChicagoNow.

  • I'm with you. When Patrick Kane did it last year or the year before, Ernest Wilkins posted a similar blog post on the Red Eye, and I agreed with him then, too. It launched a long argument filled with cogent, thoughtful rhetoric from one side and a bunch of namecalling from the other. I'm sure you can guess the sides.

    Try as you might, you can't erase the memory of hurtful race relations no matter how hard you pretend race doesn't exist. This is why Colbert mocks people who say they "don't see race"...because it's ridiculous to assume everyone else should have to leave their memories and emotions out of the equation. Context exists even if it's uncomfortable, and burying one's head in the sand doesn't make it disappear.

  • In reply to ackermanni:

    @ackermanni, I also find it interesting that some people still think that race doesn't matter. Moreover, when a black person attempts to relate their feelings or experiences---well you see what happens. I knew the simmering anger and name calling would commence. But what are you gonna do?

  • Why is respecting others not in style? Would it be really funny if the guy dressed as Hitler were walking through Skokie? How about if in Europe everyone dressed as Americans" fat, ignorant, mismatched clothes, talking English VERY LOUD to everyone, etc.

    Meatime, I'm sure you seen this viral by now:

  • Whether it is done with any idea of racism or not isn't really the point to me. It's insensitive and not anyone's right to offend so obviously. I'm sure the Ronny Woo Woo thing was funny, but you can't go there.

  • Seriously? Blackface? What kind of white people you be with? Why? I've been on the planet for a minute and I ain't ever seen an elephant fly or any white people in blackface. But if I had, I don't think it would bother me that much, it s not like an all out minstrel show ( and to be honest, that wouldn't bother me much either )

    What does bother me is the black on black crime that folk such as yourself never seem to want to put in check. No I'm not talking about the drug dealing and murdering that plague our community as we speak, that sad but understandable considering the context we live in. I'm talking about black teachers that don't teach, black police that don't police. Administrators and legislators of one sort or another that on a daily basis underserve the black community yet steady stacking dollars, regardless of their ultimately negative impact they have on us and our world. Yet they are held up as exemplary citizens not because they do their jobs, but simply because they have jobs.

    And you're bothered by blackface.

  • In reply to B K Ray:

    BK---You may want to utilize that obscure reference feature listed close to the top right hand corner called "recent posts." Yet, you do bring up an important point, as black people in this city & country we need to do better. The link below is me saying so over three years ago: http://ihatemydeveloper.blogspot.com/2008/09/truth-tellin.html. Wag your finger at someone else 'cause you are preaching to the choir. Happy reading friend.

  • In reply to WoodlawnWonder:

    'that obscure reference feature' I was responding to the posts in this thread. I may read the other stuff, but the truth is that racism and racist activity is going to continue to survive one way or the other, not really concerned with it. Other than being told to be offended by white people in blackface, I'm not sure why we should be. Sure there is a historical context, but there is also a historical context of black people making fun of white people. What's the difference between a white person (man, they are almost always men who would do that) being in blackface or being in a pimp costume or a bandelero get up?

    Even at their worst, the impact of that would be temporary and minimal to say the least.

    More importantly to me is not how we are treated by people who would oppress us, but the way we oppress each other. Before doing better we need to realize what we're doing wrong. That to me is the important thing, to acknowledge our own failings. There was a time when people who would oppress us (and anyone else they could) actually had a lot of power over the lives we led, but today, the people with the most power over us is us and we need to address those who abuse that power.

    I'm willing to bet that you are a good Christian person and that you are familiar with Jesus reproaching a hypocrite for pointing out the splinter in the someone else's eye while ignoring the railroad tie in theirs. I encourage you in your efforts, but (and this is just me) I think they would be better spent on the railroad tie than the splinter.

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    In reply to B K Ray:

    Well said!!

  • In reply to B K Ray:

    i agree with your points, but a lot of racism in this country doesn't just stop at blackface. White americans have a huge advantage in this country and so that is a huge issue (I'm white by the way, to show that I'm not bias). you're right that racism is always going to exist as long as people are even slightly different. but we have to physically and mentally eliminate the barriers between ethnic groups to reduce racism. not just shrug it off as inevitable. what woodlawn wonder is doing by calling all americans white, is reaffirming segregation. that and connecting him/herself to africans who were enslaved, or blacks who were abused in the 60's does not address the racism of today and how we go about resolving it. it is insensitive to make a joke about ethnicities, nazi's, mentally disabled, etc. but everybody is insensitive about something, as woodlawn addressed. that doesn't mean they are racist or anything. sometimes they are. but if i were you, i would be addressing the more serious racist acts in this world.

  • In reply to B K Ray:

    You may want to read the links I cited.

  • I don't see myself ever doing something like this, not only because I haven't dressed up for Halloween since I was a kid, but an important distinction definitely needs to be made: "Blackface" describes a (generally white) person using makeup to create a ridiculously over-the-top, inaccurate caricature of a supposedly typical black person. Period, end of story-- if you're offended by people dressing up as a specific person of another race than them, come up with a new term for it in your complaints.

    How on Earth is dressing up as a certain person of another race disrespectful? The people I've seen cited in articles like this are always trying their hardest to look as much like some specific person as they can. If that person has a different skin color, why wouldn't the costumer try to disguise their own to complete the illusion? How ridiculous would they look dressed as a person who is black, with translucent white skin? (They'd probably be called racist for being "a white Jay-Z" or whoever, actually...)

    The point is, to say that everyone has to limit their Halloween costume choices solely to people of their own race sounds incredibly racist and antiquated itself. (Doesn't it?? Please tell me that accurate description of the situation makes you rethink your position just the tiniest little bit, at least.)

    How can we ever move on, together, past these silly racial pigeonholes that have separated us throughout history, as long as stupidity like this goes on? You're most of the way there, based on your efforts to understand where these "offenders" are coming from, you just need to go the rest of the way. Others have so much less hope for understanding than you, it seems.

    We need to stop clinging to old battles and let people carve out a new society, where we see people as people, not as members of a monolithic team we're never allowed to joke around with, idolize (individually), demonize (individually), impersonate (individually), criticize, and everything else people do when communicating with each other, as a free collection of equals.

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    Well if you were iN london did you cathc any BBC sitcoms? They still do "blackface" characters and chinese like talking etc. I guess they would focus more on actual hate and prejudice than just get offended for the sake of getting offended. So "lighten up" people 9pun intended). we are too focused on being offended or trying not to offend.

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    Hey, I'm native american. We go through this BS every year. October is a HOT month for us Indigenous people...
    "Columbus Day"...Halloween.

    When we complain, we're whining.

    It's a no win situation with those that don't fully "get it", it can be hurtful. So we express our "issue". Yet, we receive nastier comments than you're receiving. Telling us to just accept everything and move on.

    I was once told we, native americans, should stop complaining all the time...if people can't be the cool native american, then you might as well take away the Dracula costumes.
    I didn't realize we were, now, in the mythical creature category.

    Anyway, I guess SOME people are right...we should not be so offended...so next year I will be dressing up as Hasidic Jew, curls and all!

  • In reply to D’kota:

    Frankly I knew the forget history crowd would come out in droves. They always do. Clearly there is a huge swath of people who will never get it no matter how much you attempt to explain your situation.

    But you know D., that's not what raises my eyebrows---what raises my eyebrows is that people would be so insensitive. I have a friend who is Navajo who (for obvious reasons) does not celebrate Thanksgiving. When he explained his reasons to me one day (and not because I demanded that he do so) it made sense to me. While I still celebrate the holiday, I'm sensitive and respect his feelings. Not out of some sense of political correctness but because he's my friend.

    I'd love to live in this racial utopia that some of the comments above reference. Like you, I'm dealing in the here and now; and the here and now includes our country's legacy of racism

  • In reply to WoodlawnWonder:

    no one is saying to forget history. we're telling you that you weren't enslaved and you have no right to claim the abuse of people who have suffered incredibly more than you have. I know you have been a victim of racism, most people have. So please cite your own experiences and not your ancestors. my german grandfather was a prisoner in a concentration camp, lost his whole family except his sister, helped lots of people escape, and finally escaped himself to go rescue his sister. but I don't bring that up when people jokingly call me a Nazi. instead i call them out on racism & point out there are still many Nazi's even in america and its inconsiderate since i'm a huge advocate for human rights as a member of amnesty international.

  • I'm not sure if you're lumping me in with the "forget history" droves (though based on the number of comments, I don't think "droves" is a fair term for any group of participants here) you refer to, to serve as your only response to my comment, but if so, that would be a completely inaccurate summation of my opinion.

    Just for the record, I think we should absolutely always remember history, every day-- it's one of my favorite subjects, and really the most important one, to all human societies, for all time. Forgetting, ignoring, or mischaracterizing historical events or ideas is probably the root of most of our problems today, especially here in America, land of the proud ignoramus.

    What I resist is the temptation for people to misuse history, as you definitely do in this case, by connecting two largely unrelated things by what seems to be a connecting thread, then demonizing or aggrandizing the one thing along with the other.

    This is easily done. In fact, here's an example: To say that people are morally required to limit their choices of Halloween costumes only to people of their own race, is exactly the same as people being told they were morally required to limit their choice of spouse to people of their own race. And I think we can all agree that was very wrong. And so on and so forth.

    Sounds ridiculous, of course, mostly because the comparison doesn't support your point, and yet those two things are probably more connected than the concept of dressing up as a generic "black person" or "American Indian" in order to mock them (or patronizingly "honor" them), and the concept of dressing up as a specific person, as accurately as possible, who happens to be of a different race than you.

    Incidentally, would you get just as worked up if a very light-skinned person, who identifies themselves as black, chose to darken his/her skin on Halloween to better resemble Jay-Z, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, or whoever else they wanted to dress up as? Is this also out-of-bounds under your very rigid, supposedly history-based worldview?

    The only thing we need to "let go", "forget", or "move past", etc. here, is only the idea that nothing can ever change because something happened, or used to happen, and that we should all always try our damnedest to get offended by whatever we can possibly come up with a convoluted explanation for. This goes way beyond racial issues, to class, political affiliation, religion, and so on.

    When you try hard enough to find something to take as an insult or personal offense, you will always find it. Why not instead sit back, enjoy life, and wait and see whether a genuine insult or offense is forced upon you? You might be disappointed, or pleased, depending on your perspective.

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