This week has brought before us another round of controversy regarding the use of blackface, from Virginia politicians in their college days to European fashion companies like Gucci. It’s to the point now that I wouldn’t fault any of you for believing that this was on purpose, specifically the Gucci one.
Blackface has a long and sordid history in America through the minstrel shows produced by whites with racist and bigoted tropes about black people. It has also appeared on dolls, in newspapers, popular cartoons like Bugs Bunny, and even by blacks who used it to either present accurate portrayals of blacks or pandered to whites by reinforcing their stereotypes. It would be great if we could say that as a society we’ve learned and moved on from this, but the reality is that we still have to remain consistent in rejecting these things.
One thing that I would say in the face of these consistent “missteps” by these companies is that as outrageous as it is, it would help if we as blacks aren’t surprised that these things still come up. I don’t say this because we should think it’s normal, but I believe that expressing outrage is so cyclical these days. We become outraged, have discussions about how disrespectful it is, proclaim boycotts, then after a while we move on to something else.
I think what we need to do is reject these kinds of things when they come up, and see them as a reminder that there will always be a need for change, and to never give up the fight for it. As long as we live in this fallen world, we will always encounter things that are offensive. It’ll either come from a place of ignorance, which is also a possible reason from these European brands like Prada and Gucci, or a place of hate and bigotry.
Things like blackface are tropes produced from white supremacist ideologies that were perpetuated through different generations, and so there will always be a need for us to maintain vigilance in how we defeat them in our own generation. It has even been a reminder for me to be more vigilant as well. I believe it is with this long-term mindset that we’ll learn how to manage the energy we put towards offensive things like this, so that we all can be more effective in bringing the change we need to see.