The viscerally offensive and knee-jerk rejection to blackface and its minstrelsy is tenable because it is such a repugnant display of insensitivity and motivated ignorance.
That our existential Blackness is predicated on pigmentation that can be coopted as art imitating life or vice versa, and that this symbolic escapism on the insanity and vanity of those who contemplate having to implore the virtue of work and earn a living or find meaning in life in the face of traditionally capitalistic restrictive norms and its adversity in the climate of such, leaves me aghast at this profundity of bullshit. Minstrelsy, it is said, was some social pique about religiosity and its conformity to established norms of white elitism.
In reason.com’s, “In Defense of Blackface”, there is this ongoing infatuation with existential Blackness and of our resistance to the unsolicited subscription to the constructs of whiteness that explains this.
It should therefore be no surprise that, though they certainly never expressed a wish to be enslaved, the white men who invented blackface performance often sang of a wish to be like slaves. Their songs celebrated the free, joyous, and sensual movements of slave dances — which were condemned by Victorian moralists as barbarous — and the slaves’ relaxed attitudes toward love and work.
The two best-known songs of early blackface minstrelsy, Dan Emmett’s “Dixie” and T.D. Rice’s “Jump Jim Crow,” are commonly regarded as anthems of Southern racism. But in their original versions, they were actually laments for being born white. In “Jump Jim Crow,” the singer sympathizes, in slave dialect, with those “who happen to be white.” It is “dar misfortune, and dey’d spend ebery dollar, if dey only could be gentlemen of color. It almost break my heart to see dem envy me.” Emmett’s “Dixie” was originally written as the longing of an ex-slave — whom some scholars have suggested represents Emmett himself — for his former life. Though normally regarded as post-Civil War propaganda for the “Lost Cause,” “Dixie” was actually written before the war and with intentions that did not serve the interests of those who eventually adopted it. After the war, Confederate veterans’ groups declared it the “official song of the Confederacy” and changed the lyrics to “more appropriate words” that made the singer a white soldier pining for his life atop the Old South hierarchy. When Emmett learned of the Confederate appropriation of “Dixie” he declared, “if I had known to what use they were going to put my song, I will be damned if I’d have written it.”
Ah! To be like Black people but to not be them as they so condemn us socioeconomically into being.
Here is the thing about their minstrelsy that seem lost on them. W.E.B. Dubois had cerebrally pointed out in his book “The Gift of Black Folk”, how our humanity wasn’t fundamentally driven by wayward capitalism and supremacism.
[…]the black slave brought into common labor certain new spiritual values not yet fully realized. As a tropical product with a sensuous receptivity to the beauty of the world, he was not as easily reduced to be the mechanical draft-horse which the northern European laborer became. He was not easily brought to recognize any ethical sanctions in work as such, but tended to work as the results pleased him, and refused to work or sought to refuse when he did not find the spiritual returns adequate; this he was easily accused of laziness and driven as a slave when in truth, he brought to modern manual labor a renewed valuation of life.¹
So as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam reaches to find excuses for us to excuse his performative whiteness and constitutionally privilege him by simply accepting it and move on (this must explain the hooded KKK figure in his yearbook), I find it ludicrous that we can’t really talk about it and see it for what it is.
The yearbook photo is from Eastern Virginia Medical School. I think it is evident here that Law number 1 and 2 of Cipolla’s Laws of Stupidity applies here.
Law 1: Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
Law 2: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
Northam first acknowledged he was one of the people pictured in the yearbook and apologized, then walked back that apology, claiming he actually wasn’t in the picture while simultaneously admitting that he had worn blackface before, but at a different time. He faces intense pressure to step down, and he’s met with staff to figure out what to do next.
What to do next?!?!?🤔🤨
Rachel Dolezal. Remember her? How could we forget. It appears the burden of her whiteness was so oppressively unbearable that she opted for transracial cosmetics to assimilate into what she believed freed her mind body and soul.
Dolezal’s claim to Blackness is also not only in vain, but something that is vain-glorious of her to seek and it is very much a point she want to impress upon with Blacks as much as with Whites.
What Mr. Northam should do is what she has done and find themselves in exile.
¹DuBois, W.E.B., The Gift of Black Folk, The Negroes In The Making of America. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001T4YVLK/ref=oh_aui_d_asin_title_o00_?ie=UTF8&psc=1