Race: “Corking Up”

Blackface in Berlin

All Corked Up

 

Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, found herself in an apparently awkward situation this past Friday when holiday carolers arriving on her doorstep included several in Blackface. Eyebrows were raised and perhaps the correctness bells were clamoring over lovely German youth sporting black on their faces. Just what was the message?

Blackening one’s face with burned cork , shoe polish or grease paint has a long and complicated history in the United States and elsewhere. In the US the original practice allowed white performers to denigrate blacks in a variety of ways that amounted to crude and offensive stereotypes. But, beginning in the mid 19-th century, Blackfacealso became perhaps the dominant performance style in all of American theater. It was widely popular and was used as a way of bringing opera and other stage genres to the public. Blackface, in the 1840′s was the “reality show” of today; everywhere and wildly successful. Whites wore Blackface and so (inexplicably) did Blacks. (In the 1930′s and 40′s “Black comics at Harlem’s Apollo theater wore Blackface and said they felt ‘naked’ without it.”

Blackface solidified its hold by branching out into “minstrels”, three-act plays where blackfaced actors, either White or Black, sang, acted and danced, though again generally employing unflattering stereotypes of Blacks.

Blackface Transformation

 

Some where along the way the symbolic “Darky” emerged perhaps because the verbal co-optingof exaggerated Black vernacular was insufficient. Wooly hair, bulging eyes, huge lips, jet black skin and white teeth further “enhanced” the image of the outrageous Black. Aunt Jemima is a well known, though a very toned-down “mammy” example.

Blackfaced actors and minstrelsy in the US declined with the advent of the Civil Rights movement though it continued to be popular in parts of Europe, especially Britain. These days the “minstrelsy/Darky” stereotype, complete with its gross physical exaggerations seems to have been replaced with the shorthand version of “black on a face.” No need to do more, history does the rest.

Banania

Toned-down images are still used to market products which employ the “Darky” iconography: bulging eyes, big lips, etc.

Is Blackface stripped of the “Darky” stereotyping racially insensitive? Can actors, or regular people, for that matter, color their face and convey either a neutral or positive message in doing so?

It turns out that Ms. Merkel’s carolers were celebrating a religious ritual called “Three Kings Day” where part of the observance is honoring the “Wise Men” or Magi of Christian fame. Biblically, they included a Persian, an Indian and an Arabian, respectfully, thus inclining them to a darker color skin. Ritual calls for one or more of the carolers to blacken their skin to recall them.

An apparent act of veneration was interpreted by the press, (possibly Merkel) and others as being racially disrespectful but that does not seem to be the case. Ironically, the US national shame both about the institution of slavery and the denial of Civil Rights is generally associated with Africans and it seems that the Magi even failed to fit that bill.

The reaction to children and the Magi says a lot about how far we have come and how far we need to go where a true understanding of race is concerned. Perhaps it is also a cautionary tale where a “smartphone and 24-hour breaking news society” is stripping us of our capacity to reflect and see the nuance in any situation before we react.

 

( Credits: Amazon, Wiki, Telegraph, NYDN)

 

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FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Comments
Eric Lamar
Our American Sharia
Should all weapons be legal? Should some be more difficult to obtain in order to protect children? Calling the support of a Sandy Hook fundraiser "betrayal" is sharia sheikh trash talk. Folks that think it's not, don't care about innocent children. Shoe fit? Where it.
2015-04-24 22:16:35
Jonathan Weinberg
Our American Sharia
Perhaps the reason Spartacus thinks that "controls to prevent another “Adam Lanza” somehow is a restriction on lawful guns owners" because the controls that were put in place after the Sandy Hook travesty were, in fact, restrictions on lawful gun owners. In fact, in New York, guns that had been lawfully purchased by lawful gun…
2015-04-24 22:08:54
Eric Lamar
Our American Sharia
BTW- What warped definition of logic compels you to assume that controls to prevent another "Adam Lanza" somehow is a restriction on lawful guns owners?
2015-04-21 17:16:11
Eric Lamar
Our American Sharia
Please try to stay on topic. It is very simple--will sane and reasonable citizens do all humanely possible to protect children against homicidal children? The hardcore gun lobby passes for a harem of sharia sheikhs. Nanny state? Please. Let's protect children with entirely reasonable actions. The sky won't fall.
2015-04-21 17:11:42
Spartacus
Our American Sharia
Step away from the kool-aid. The Sandy Hook promise is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at more gun control. You want increased mental health funding and programs, fine. What we don't need are any more laws that restrict law-abiding gun owners. Note that Adam Lanza was not a law abiding gun owner. Nor…
2015-04-21 16:48:27
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