History of Blackface

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The Blackface section titles “What Is Wrong With Blackface?” made to educate students on the history of blackface, 2018, created by Rolling Meadows Highschool Students.

Racism has been alive for centuries, especially towards blacks in America. Throughout the history of the U.S. There have been many derogatory ways in which black people have been mistreated, one being blackface. Over the years, the significance that blackface has on history has been overlooked, even forgotten. But what exactly is blackface, and why is it unacceptable?

The history of blackface in America started after the Civil War when African Americans had been freed from legal slavery and continued throughout the civil rights movement. Blackface is the act of a white person painting their faces a black color, used to mock African Americans. It was typically used for comedic purposes and entertainment for whites to watch on television or during live performances. It can be found in many old plays or movies that are considered classics to this day.

In the movie Holiday Inn, a famous 1942 movie, Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds, two famous American singers sing a happy birthday song Lincoln called “Abraham,” in blackface. Everyone in the scene performing, even the band could be found fully covered in cork grease, mocking the black race. Holiday Inn is a well known classic with several famous songs that many people already know. One specific song, “Happy Holiday,” is  a classical song played around the Christmas season that was featured in the film. Many broadcasting networks have taken out the controversial sequence from the broadcasts, permitting it as racially offensive due to the racial derision. 

According to the article “How the History of Blackface Is Rooted in Racism,” by Alexis Clark, a writer for History.com, “White performers in blackface played characters that perpetuated a range of negative stereotypes about African American including being lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, criminal or cowardly.”

Many people such as Va Gov. Ralph Northam, for example, are still being accused of blackface for taking a photo in blackface next to a person in a mock Ku Klux Klan costume several decades ago. He eventually admitted to taking the aforementioned photo almost 35 years earlier, resulting in lots of backlash and talk about what the government should do next. To this day, if a picture is taken of somebody in blackface, it can come back in many years to haunt them.

Although blackface is not broadcasted on national television anymore and is being nationally avoided, it is something that happened often in the past, and it is important to learn about and should not be ignored.