Blackface Shouldn’t Be Part of Your Halloween Costume
As soon as you start to help their children plan the costumes on Halloween ( like Halloween or looked this year ), and when you start to plan their own costumes for all holidays for adults in which you are involved, this is our yearly reminder that blackface will never, ever be okay. You – and your kids – can dress like LeBron James, Barack Obama or Beyoncé without darkening your complexion in historically offensive ways.
You might think this would be a matter of course by now, especially given the focus this year in the United States on racism and racial injustice. And yet, just last week , a part-time high school childcare assistant in Utah was fired for posting a blackface image to a personal social media account. Do not do it. Don’t let your kids do this. And call all friends, neighbors, or acquaintances who do this – tell them it’s racist ( that’s what anti-racism is all about ).
If you’re looking for a primer on why blackface will always be racist, History.com has a great article on how the popularity of blackface minstrels skyrocketed after the Civil War and during the 19th century, during a time of intense racial animosity:
Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New York-born actor, is considered the “father of the minstrels”. After traveling south and observing slaves, Rice is said to have developed a stage character for Black named “Jim Crow” in 1830.
With fast dance moves, exaggerated African American language, and clownish demeanor, Rice founded a new genre of racist song and dance – the black-faced minstrel show that became central to American entertainment in the North and South.
“The process of blackening the face has been about objectifying and dehumanizing the community so that society can then find moral peace with the violence that is taking place,” said David Leonard , professor of comparative ethnic studies and American studies at Washington State. University. “Blackface not only needs to be included in the history books, but it is something that (white Americans) have not yet realized.”
Parents should start by learning about the history of blackface in America. Leonard says part of the benefit of whiteness is being immune to the history of the black face and being able to ignore the pain it causes. But it is up to parents to help their children understand the history of the practice so that they grow up to know better and achieve better results.
Why? Because more than half of white adults still think that using blackface is “always,” “sometimes,” or at least sometimes is acceptable (incorrect). The same percentage of black adults think this is never acceptable (correct).
“You often hear, ‘It’s just fun, it’s just celebration,’ says Leonard. “What does it mean that I am having fun or is my child having fun at the expense of others?”
Does intention matter?
As Leonard points out, white people wearing blackface often profess not to know its racist roots after the fact. This is a pretty shaky argument, even with children; even if the child does not know anything, the parent must. But regardless of whether the intention is to harm or not, harm will still be done.
“If I’m walking down the street and stepping on someone’s foot, yes, my intention can make a difference, whether I did it by accident or on purpose,” says Leonard. “But it hurts no matter what; if it was an accident, it won’t make the pain or bruising less noticeable. So this emphasis on intent … refutes pain, refutes history. “
Parents can work with their kids to create costumes that respectfully honor their favorite black idols. A child dressed as LeBron James can wear a basketball jersey under a business suit because James is known as a basketball player, businessman, and public figure.
“But just putting on a shirt and blackening your face is not [respectful],” Leonard says. “It belittles, it mocks and reduces him to being ridiculed.”
This story was originally published in 2019 and has been updated on October 14, 2020 to reflect the current information and style.