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Posted under: Opinion Politics

7 Blackface Visuals That Show America's Racist Past

Blackface is a major part of America's racist narrative

In the past few weeks, offensive blackface has surfaced in the form of Gucci turtlenecks, Katy Perry’s ugly shoes, and Moncler Sambo coats, and blackface-themed photographs featuring two members of the Baton Rouge police, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, respectively. All instances have caused public outcry, garnering somewhat of an apology from each offender. Oftentimes, outrage is a common reaction to this surprisingly common offense, yet so many seem to forget that the common denominator among the brands and people listed is the caucasity to entertain blackface in the first place. 

According to Pew Research Center, a recent survey revealed that 34 percent of the nation believes demonstrating blackface is A-OK. At the rate of current blackface revelations, it’s safe to assume the reported percentage is greater than it suggests, and that the dismissals, half-ass apologies, silence and pretense for which they shuck and jive, exemplifies white fragility — the very thing that keeps white folks like Northam, who waxed ignorantly through his blackface debacle, from owning up to racist bullshit — no cap.

The best of whiteness has trouble seeing themselves as trash; possibly because they're using the worst of whiteness —  white supremacist such like the Ku Klux Klan — as their metric. As disgustingly hateful as the KKK, Unite the Right and other independent white supremacists happen to be, they are honest to a fault about where they stand on racial politics, unlike many white liberals and left wingers, who are deceivingly covert with theirs. We are witnessing this through the subtleties and cowardice of their recent blackface findings.

An apologetic Herring reasoned that his blackface was an ode; that he was channeling old school rapper Kurtis Blow. Joy Behar of The View claims similar, according to the Washington Examiner, when she darkened her skin to dress as a "beautiful African woman" one Halloween. These weren't blind acts. Both of them know better, but neither of them had the conscience, nor restraint to refrain from blackfacing. Even so-called allies have trouble suppressing this — a lot of them just can’t. Such is the case when they mock, play and deride black folks. 

“Imitating perceived blackness is arguably the central metaphor for what it means to be American,” author William T. Lhamon says in his book Jump Jim Crow.

Projections of blackface and racist imagery is synonymous with American whiteness — the best and it’s worse. It is quite possibly where the two are most evenly yoked. After all, digesting such large doses of Black excellence must be terribly hard, because blackface has been a thing since early Reconstruction, which pretty much marks the incarnation of ole Jim Crow.

Therefore, the retail reincarnations of blackface and the old school throwbacks are literal throwbacks of white American culture — and they are not even the worst. White culture been commodifying blackface, and been trolling n****s with it, too. Here are seven visuals that show the blackface jiving of white America throughout American history.

1. Pickaninny Postcards

Ida Harris
Ida Harris

Postcards depicting Black children with an uncanny semblance to blackface were considered damned delightful to white folks. Commonly bought for postal use and collected as souvenirs, these postcards not only mocked Black children, they sexualized them, too.

2. Jim Crow

It's no surprised that Jim Crow wrongly portrays Black behavior and Black looks, especially since the character was neither a human or fictional — it was derivative of an actual crow. African slaves depicted Jim as a happy-go-lazy crow in African folk tales. A white man by the name Thomas Dartmouth Rice capitalized on the figure by exaggerating a crippled Black man’s animated storytelling style. He dressed himself in slave clothing and blackface, and took his misappropriated show on the road. 

3. Minstrel Shows


YouTube | RandomMovieClips

Blackface minstrelsy was a dumb phenomenon. The shows were comprised of white performers acting out vile stereotypes of Black people for white comic relief. Back then, there were also Black troupes who bought into and performed minstrel shows, just as we have today with Floyd Mayweather, Kanye West and Candace Owens. 

4. Racist Ads Illustrated by Dr. Seuss

UC San Diego Library
UC San Diego Library

Long before Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, became a child-friendly author and illustrator, who for the era was considered relatively "woke," he drew racist cartoons for an advertising agency. 

5. Memorabilia

White America is not only nostalgic when it comes to politics and "making America great again," they love themselves some blackface Americana memorabilia. The wider the smile, the whiter the apron, the tighter the head rag, the stiffer the bowtie, the redder the lips, black(er) the face — the better. Ask Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Gimme A Break's Nell Carter, and Robert Guillaume from Benson

6. Golliwogg Caricatures

Golliwogg dolls are a far cry from basic rag dolls and have a racist history themselves. They were created to resemble minstrel performers by Florence Kate Upton, a young white girl from Queens, New York.

"Seated upon a flowerpot in the garden, his kindly face was a target for rubber balls..., the game being to knock him over backwards. It pains me now to think of those little rag legs flying ignominiously over his head, yet that was a long time ago, and before he had become a personality....We knew he was ugly!" Upton once said to describe her dolls, according to D. Barton Johnson’s Nabokov's Golliwoggs.

7. Barsony Babies

Ida Harris
Ida Harris
While not as grotesque as typical blackface reproductions, Barsony babies were created by a Hungarian sculpture, George Barsony. He built an entire design company based around the manufacturing of these ceramic, Black, matte figures — proving the objectification and commodification of Blackness have roots in whiteness beyond American culture. 

Blackface and racist images are nothing new. Much of the imagery and twisted portrayals of Blackness that pointedly mocked African Americans were financially beneficial for white capitalists, dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming well-established in white culture. Because of America's history of race relations, there's no convincing us that white people are simply oblivious to why blackfacing ain't OK — they know. Yet the constant educational admonishments seem fruitless.

There is no amount of Black outrage to convince them not to do it, on any day, under any circumstances — ever. Like these visuals, those who perpetuate these negative stereotypes — and rightfully get called out for doing so — will go down in history. 

Blackfacing is as American as apple pie, baseball, summer vacations, fried chicken, fourth of July, U.S. Constitution, gentrification, redlining, ghettos, police brutality, ICE, white lies and Black lies and Jussie's lies.

Clearly, the reckoning is not the one we have with them, but the ones they have with themselves. While we can't seem to stop all acts of reckless white’n, we can f**k up a few rings of racism by continuing to hold them accountable when we catch them in the act.

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Ida Harris is a current News Editor for Blavity. She is a native New Yorker, sowing seeds in Atlanta. She is savvy with standard English, but poetic with Black Vernacular. She's been known to f*ck up some Oxford commas. When she is not reciting Trap music quotables, she’s writing for The Root, Elle, USA TODAY, DAME magazine and MyBrownBaby. Follow her Twitter, Instagram, and Word2MUVA column.