Tag Archives: Jim Crow

Is Blackface Ever Racist?

In order to answer this question, we have to talk about Jim. Jim Crow.

The term “Jim Crow” can refer to the set of laws based on the claim that black people in America are inferior to whites, are to be kept from opportunity, and segregated. Lynching is an option. The law implements this philosophy by codifying segregation and repression.

But Jim Crow was also an actual person. Well, not really a person, but a character played by a person, prior to the Civil War, that war that ended slavery.

After that war, the law, society, and politics changed, giving free blacks, most of whom were former slaves, opportunity and meaningful freedom. This change was widespread, rapid, and dramatic. Suddenly, there were black elected officials, for example. Black kids went to schools with their elders, and African American literacy rates rose rapidly. African Americans voted and actively participated in the political process. African Americans began to accumulate some wealth, and to own land, and were free to use public accommodations.

But the Federal government dropped the ball and these changes were not supported or enforced, and the northern white establishment quickly gave sway to the southern racists. There was a rapid fire series of events often associated with mini battles involving police, troops, and angry townspeople, that pushed African Americans back down. In some counties or cities, even at the state level, there were two sets of ballot boxes during elections. The legal one where everyone could vote, and the whites only box. Generally, the white only ballots were the ones that were counted.

This is when the Jim Crow legal philosophy emerged. White America oversaw the dismantling of most of the post war advancements, using the Jim Crow laws.

Besides the Jim Crow laws, another part of that regression was the widespread construction of civil war monuments across the south, honoring southern generals, troops, etc. Also, monuments were erected to celebrate the white victories in the post Civil War battles mentioned above. These monuments were explicit acts of oppression of black Americans.

Those are the very same monuments that have been coming down lately in the south, the center of protests bringing white supremacists out of the woodwork, the great people on both sides, according to Trump. (See: Taking down New Orleans’ monuments: Not what you think)

So, where does the original Jim Crow fit in? Before the war, Jim Crow was a character played by actor Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He had started playing the role by 1832, probably with blackface from the beginning, but if not, black face was soon added. Jim Crow was an absurd, ignorant, negative depiction meant to denigrate African Americans, mostly in those days slaves. But the black face Jim Crow continued after the Civil War and became the basis for later ministerial shows. Those shows were also meant to denigrate blacks. Stepin Fetchit was a latter day version of this, played by African American actor Lincoln TMA Perry. Perry was the first African American actor to make it big, and he had a long career as a fully co-opted player in 20th century racist Hollywood. Being already black, he did not wear black face, but he played a role fully cognate with Jim Crow.

In fact, post modern revisionists have taken both the original racist Jim Crow image and Stepin Fetchit, made the link with colonial African tropes, to call it all an embodiment of the “trickster” archetype. That’s also racist, that revisionism.

Jim Crow was a very offensive and hurtful parody of black people. Jim Crow was an absurd character meant to entertain racist whites. Jim Crow is where black face began, back in the 1830s Blackface was never not racist.

Blackface Halloween costumes are blatantly racist. Blackface has always, always, been racist. Blackface has been a racist, denigrating, part of white society in America since the early 1830s, when Thomas Dartmouth β€œDaddy” Rice invented this horribly offensive persona. Blackface has never been anything but racist.

And everyone knows this, except Megan Kelly.

NBC, maybe you need to take out the trash. Hey, NBC, thanks for taking out the trash.