Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Black and It's White

I just came across this article that definitely relates to the most recent racially fueled discussions we've had in class... in a unique way.   How would Baker or Gates react to this incident?

The roots of Blackface are arguably discriminatory by today's standards.  Why is this? Does society frown upon imitating other cultures?  Is the racial climate too unstable to find any source of comedy in relation to it?  I think this incident is fascinating mostly because I can't help but wonder what the outcome would be if African American students dressed in whiteface and paraded around the GWU campus.  I'm almost certain it would be given very little attention– if any at all.


  1. Being the resident class southerner, I would probably guess that the main reason why blackface is seen as discriminatory is because of its past. For years it was a form of discrimination during slavery and the civil rights movement so it just stuck. Having said that, I do remember that my Freshman year a campus leader dressed up in whiteface and it cased little if no commotion, which might say something about what you mention near the end. Having said that though, I have also noticed that white people dressing up as black people is also not frowned on in case its a blatant attempt to be racist. Overall though, definitely a complicated issue

  2. I think that this article is extremely controversial. Personally I do not think that there is anything wrong with a white student dressing up as Bob Marley for Halloween. Would it not be okay for the student to dress up as Billy Joel or Keith Urban (famous white musicians)? What is this ACTUALLY saying about our culture today? How can we, as a nation, attempt to overcome racism if the playing fields are not level. What I mean by that is, if all races are equal, then why can't a black person aspire to be a white person or vice versa. There should be no limits due to race, even when considering something as silly as a Halloween costume. As a white male if I were to dress up as Alice in Wonderland why would that be more culturally accepted then me dressing up as a black man such as Bob Marley or a character such as "Shaft?" It just confuses me as to why this is even an issue in 2009. If the student were to dress up as a "black slave" then there would be an issue. That would be inappropriate. What would our culture say if a black student were to paint her face white and call herself Anna Kournikova? I'd assume that would not raise any attention. My point is that racism goes both ways. In a society were all races are treated equally (or should be) we have to look at all aspects of intention. Do you think the white student dressed up as Bob Marley's intention was racist? I don't.

  3. Looking toward Judith Butler, I can't help but introduce the concept of performativity here. All of this happened on a night when it is the norm to dress up as someone other, right? Also, if you'll permit me an overreading of this issue, Bob Marley is a performer himself. Thus, we might ask whether or not race can be performed (in the same way that Butler argues that gender can be performed). Moreover, what does it mean for Baker to locate an essential element of blackness in the blues musician/performer? Isn't that argument situating performance at the center of race? Even still, Baker's argument that blackness is in "perpetual motion" might resist the idea that there is something inherent in blackness that can--or must be--pinned down and that cannot--or should not--be appropriated by others. I'm not necessarily advocating for these points. They just seem like ones that we should consider.

    Also, what do we make of this?

  4. I would have to go back to Nick's comments about the past associated with blackface performances. The minstrelsy acts of the nineteenth century essentially caricatured African Americans in a derogatory manner. It is quite obvious that the whites that did this were not using blackface as a means to aspire to be a black person. Just from personal experience, I know a few acquaintances from home (a place that isn't exactly the most culturally sensitive or enlightened place...), who dressed up in blackface just to be "funny" at one time or another (during Halloween at least). Although someone dressing up in blackface or whiteface doesn't exactly infuriate me to the point of outrage, I do see it as tacky and ignorant.

    I am currently in a Performance Lit class and, after reading a book about Harlem cabarets, I've become more acquainted with instances throughout history where blacks' performativity is used as a sort of fodder for whites. Though whites conceded the talent of black performers in some cases, it was first and foremost a spectacle....blacks on display. I feel this strips the performers of their humanity. By saying, "Wow, look what these blacks can do!" one is essentially admitting that the standards are not being set very high in the first place (which is offensive).