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Blackface: The Modern Day Perspective

Diversity is important to me. And important in general.

In my eyes, diversity matters a great deal, considering that I myself am a minority. Diversity is especially important in educational institutions. It allows us to learn outside of the classroom, and connect with people both similar and different from us. So when I first saw pictures of blackface parties (and other racially insensitive events) occurring on many well-known college campuses, I was shocked. Not only was I shocked at the fact that these were real life images, but also shocked that they were not making national headlines. I found that many of the teenagers in my generation were unaware. Either unaware of these events, or unaware of the general practice of blackface. And thus, through this realization, I decided to design a project in which I would interact with my fellow peers and really dig down on what seems to be the general consensus on blackface today in America.

What is blackface?

Gaining popularity in the 19th century, blackface was a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a black person. This practice contributed to the spread of many racial stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon.” However, in today’s society, it has seemed to revamp itself. While minstrel shows are not around and people are not coating themselves with black paint to perform, it seems that many people (specifically of the younger generation) seem to keep the practice going. This controversy has also caused backlash against popular magazines and contributed to another relevant social issue: cultural appropriation. And though blackface may be thought of as simply applying to African Americans, the practice can also include the portrayal of other ethnic groups (ex: yellowface).

An advertisement for a minstrel show.

University of Toronto students dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween.

Wait!

 

The Modern Day Perspective

In order to analyze the current awareness of the issue, I decided to sit down and interview a couple of my fellow classmates. I had them react to specifically selected pictures that were relevant to the topic. Through these interviews, not only was I able to see people’s reactions first hand, but I was also able to spread awareness on an issue that many have not heard about or discussed. I was also able to share my project with others at school, which sparked conversation and helped to change the narrative. Over the course of 3 days, I was able to compile all of their responses in the video below. I encourage you to watch carefully and react to some of these images yourself.

Reflection

This entire process was a challenge in many ways. Physically compiling the videos took some time, of course, but the most challenging part was sitting behind the camera. I was forced to hide my own feelings for the sake of preserving the authentic reaction of each individual. However, at the end of the day, the effort was worthwhile. And while the reactions were similar in many ways, it was an incredible experience to be able to witness the first reactions of my peers. But most of all, this project has allowed me to create a way to raise awareness about this topic, right here in my own community. That is an experience that will only motivate me to move forward, and take steps to advocate for more change. And lastly, I would like to thank everyone who has made this project possible and has allowed me to take a stance on something I believe in. I hope you enjoyed:)

 

Bibliography
Advertisement for a minstrel show. Digital image. The Odyssey. Odyssey Media Group, 31 Oct. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Auburn University: Delta Sigma Phi and Beta Theta Pi’s Blackface Party. Digital image. The Gloss. N.p., 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Jansson, Mikael. Barrel Service. Digital image. Yahoo Style. Yahoo!, 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Meisel, Steven. The Power of Personality. Digital image. Vogue Italia. Condé Nast, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
1954 High School Minstrel Show, Livermore High School, California. Digital image. Those Who Can See. Blogger, 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Shoemaker, Paige. Shoemaker and her friend Sadie Meier wearing blackface and throwing up the Westside W with an offensive caption. Digital image. Twitter. Snapchat, 15 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
University of North Dakota female students make Black Lives Matter Snapchat gag wearing facial masks. Digital image. Daily Mail.com. Snapchat, 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
University of Toronto students decided to dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween. Digital image. The Society Pages. The Society Pages, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
“Blackface.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

 

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