Is Blackface Ever OK?
We've received a lot of listener response to our story on the controversy over a certain Hallowe'en costume at a Legion party in Cambellford. You can read the whole story here, but here's a quick recap: two men enter a legion wearing the costumes of a Ku Klux Klan member and a man in blackface with a noose around his neck. Not only that, but they win first prize in a Hallowe'en costume contest.
Yesterday on the show we heard from pop culture critic Dalton Higgons about the greater context for blackface and why it still isn't acceptable as a costume choice. You can hear that conversation below, but we also received a lot of emails and Tweets on the topic. Here are some of those.
- From Janice Anderson:
I am too angry to be coherent. As a Black Canadian, these incidents bring home the point that despite Canada's insistence that it is not a racist country, and that racism is make believe, that it happens in mostly in the US and other ignorant countries, this incidence proves that white Canadians are capable of turning on a dime and enacting very racist behaviours/language/gestures... all in the name of "their innocent" fun.
Let us not pussyfoot around here --the costume was racist and disgusting. And I am not inciting political correctness in saying that either. It is a fact that the costume AND the fact that it WON FIRST PRIZE hands down (my God, no one objected to this???) was meant to be racist because it clearly harkens to a ugly historical context. Let it be known that hundreds and thousands of my people died because of a deep hatred of black people. They were hunted and hung by men in white sheets. Strange fruit.
Let us not be naive in assuming that this act reflects a bygone era; let us remember that in Nova Scotia in 2010 a MODERN era in a MODERN country, a racist act was evoked with the burning of a cross and the utterance of "die nigger die" by the perpetrators.
Let us also remember that just two years ago on September 16, 2008 Brandon McClelland, 24, was dragged to death beneath a truck driven by two white men in Paris, Texas. McClelland was black.
Let it be known that the site of McClelland's death was about 200 miles from the location where James Byrd was murdered in a similar manner ten years before. Parts of their mangled bodies were found strewn along the highways.
So hell, no, I am not laughing. I am not overeacting either. I am spitting mad about the whole affair.
I am glad that the legion hall was shut down, because this racist act took place in a public way in a Canadian institution, and the users/owners of that facility have to reconcile and clearly articulate their position on racist behaviour, language, gestures etc. I agree with Dalton Higgings about the anti-racist training, it is a critical first step.
This November 11, I want a reason to continue wearing my poppy with great pride.
- From Bob Mazar:
Let's be a little more prudent in our application of social concepts. The previous respondent who cites political correctness as the source of the Legion bruhahaha should revisit our recent history. And by "our" I mean west and east, north and south; in short we, as a species, are not very far removed from, neither historically, nor I would add, cognitively from the very politically insensitive violations of basic human rights.
Better to continue our political correctness, if this is what he wants to call it, than opt for the alternatives which history has amply proven most undesirable.
- Tweet from christinesirois:
If my university education has taught me anything, satire is a far more effective representational strategy than parody.
- Tweet from Noah Carroll:
By that logic, we should be seeing kids trick or treating as Hitler and Charles Manson? I think not.
- Tweet from thebradmacneil:
If the costume had been worn by a hipster, it'd be 'edgy'. Can we just admit it was an error in judgement?
- Tweet from CanuckThespian:
Some people just make stupid choices, look back at the Nazi Halloween choice of a certain member of the Royal Family.
- And a few suggestions from Jennifer Johnston on how we can move forward:
Yesterday you asked for emails on feelings about the costume contest in
Campbellford. I agree with the outpouring of anger over this incident.
However you also asked for solutions to combat racism overall.
Such lapses in judgement come down to a lack of empathy on the part of
the participants. They neglected to think ahead on how their actions
would affect others. I am sure they are feeling that empathy now.
Preventing these and other incidences should begin young. I recently
joined the ranks of instructors of "Roots of Empathy", and international
program dedicated to developing empathy in children. The program
involves a full year of instruction, and visits to the classroom from an
infant and parent. By watching the baby grow and interact emotionally
with the world, the children start to look at themselves and their own
feelings, and then start to examine the feelings of others. Roots of
Empathy has been proven in many studies to decrease bullying and
aggressive behaviour in children who participate. Students learn to
think of others before they act (which the participants in Campbellford
neglected to do), and to stand up when they see something happening that
is wrong (which the rest of the party-goers neglected to do).
Empathy is an essential skill, and learning to use it takes practice. I
am very excited to begin delivering this program next week in a grade
4/5 classroom, and I can't wait to see the students develop along with
our infant teacher.