Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why I'm not offended by whiteface

...and you shouldn't be either.

Whiteface is kind of buzzing right now because Nick Cannon took a picture of himself in all white makeup to impersonate a white person.

Frankly, I laughed when I first saw this...then frowned because I knew a bunch of people's panties would get in a wad.

Nick Cannon is not the first black person to do this, but twitter wasn't all the rage back in Dave Chapelle's day. A few people are upset by this and claim, "Oh, well, Nick Cannon does whiteface and nobody cares but Julianne and Derek Hough do blackface and everyone is all pissy about it." If we were really comparing apples to apples, then, yes, it should be equally offensive. However we are NOT comparing apples to apples.

Why it's different:

There is no history of black people being the dominant culture in the Western world and using that advantage to enslave white people, then to one day let white people go only to systematically prevent them from participating in normal society. Sure, slave, you're "free" now. You're so free that we're going to let your name yourself "Freeman" (yes, this is the main reason the name "Freeman" is so common). You still can't really do all the things a truly free man can do though. You can't vote. You can't own property. You can't run for office. You can't have certain jobs. Hell, you probably can't even read and we're certainly not going to go out of our way to teach you.

Then enough white people realized that black people were, like, you know, PEOPLE so they decided black people were allowed to have a few rights such as voting and owning property, but they still weren't allowed to participate fully in society. Jim Crow, the KKK, the back of the bus, and blackface. Blackface was done for two reasons. One, to mock stereotypes of black people. Two, to keep black people out of the entertainment industry.

Now, to be fair, there were some blackface performers who genuinely enjoyed black music and culture and wanted to imitate it (sound familiar?) but not in a mocking way. The problem is, these were the minority and still played into a system that purposely excluded black entertainers and made a joke out of them. Even Elvis was a part of this system. He was popular because he could dance and make music like a black dude, but was a white boy and record companies knew that they'd sell fewer records if they put a black entertainer out there. This is the defining moment of when rock n roll was stolen from black people.

BTW, I don't hold any hostility toward The King. I adore a lot of his music. He, himself, was doing no wrong, but he was being manipulated by a system of people that still wanted to keep black people out of the biz and milked him like the cash cow he was.

Why we're not past it:

A lot of people in America, mostly white ones, seem to think, "Well, that was then, this is now. We've matured as a culture. Hey, we even have a black president, black CEOs, black teachers, black entertainers. Racism is a thing of the past."

Not so fast.

Look at our entertainment industry. Think of all the black characters in TV shows, movies, and music. How many of those are walking stereotypes? The pimp. The gangster. The homeless man. The sassy black woman. The angry black woman. If a movie features mostly white actors, it's just a movie. People of all colors will go see it. It will get award nominations. It will get reviewed by all the top critics. It will be a water cooler subject. If a movie features mostly black actors, most white people are not going to see it because, "Ugh, that's a BLACK movie." It won't get award nominations. Only certain critics will touch it. No one at the office will talk about it...except maybe some of the black people.  Sure, there are plenty of characters played by black people that aren't walking stereotypes, but they are definitely the minority. Most white people don't even notice this because they're used to it being this way (that's why it's systematic racism), but if you really pay attention, you can't miss it.

The same goes for successful businesses. Go to your local McDonald's then go to your local law office. Record the percentages of black workers you see in each. Even within McDonald's, look who is working where. Black CEOs make up a mere 1% of the Fortune 500. Hollywood and Wall St. are still largely rich, white boys' clubs.

So, you're saying black people can't be successful?

Of course black people can succeed. In theory, black people have every opportunity white people have and can work hard and be creative and rise to the top...but we're are still playing a game that is highly rigged, not just against people of color, but people of poverty. The main reason it's highly rigged is not because white people are all monsters. It is because white people, ALL white people, even the really nice ones, even the ones who speak up for equality, even the ones reading this who agree, still passively benefit from the game and we're used to playing with these rules. Most of us don't even notice it and since we're comfortable, why mess with a good thing? Besides, the race problems are THEIR problem. Except that it's everyone's problem but very few white people are motivated to even mention it let alone work to improve it. Sadly enough, when a white person does mention it, they're often trampled upon by other white people who want to keep the game rigged (ask me how I know). Some of them aren't even aware they're doing this. Others are abject racists but know they can't come out and say so or they'll be shunned, so they attempt to make a reasonable argument out of it (but it's painfully obvious).

But what about BET and TV One? 

BET is owned by Viacom and TV One is owned by Comcast. Bet you can't guess what color the CEOs of those companies are. To be fair, these channels are both part of different divisions within the corporations and are not quite as whitewashed, but still, we all know how well separate but equal works.

Aren't black people segregating themselves with that stuff anyway?

No. They are working as valid entertainers in a world that won't allow them do so any place else. Oddly, this is a step backward. In the 80s and 90s, there were plenty of TV shows that featured primarily black actors and were normal for white people to watch, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Family Matters. There are no shows like that now. Shows like that have been relegated to "black only" channels such as BET and TV One which has strengthened the idea of, "That's a black thing, so I'm not watching it."

White people, it's time for us to be really honest with ourselves. It's time to be observant. It's time to reflect. Think about it, when was the last time you turned on a major network program or saw a major motion picture populated by a majority of black actors? If you did happen to see something with a majority of black actors, be honest, didn't you change the channel or tell yourself, "I'm not going to go see that. It's a black thing?" When you did see black people in major network programs and motion pictures, how many of them were playing the aforementioned stock characters (the gangsters, the criminals, the angry black woman, etc.)?

All of this is why our culture allows for a certain double standard. "Honkey" and "nigger" are not equal insults, and frankly, I'm not sure why it's a competition. I don't understand why white people want to believe that they've been egregiously insulted and it's totally the same thing, maybe even worse, as it is when other colors of people are slandered. Is there some kind of trophy for who gets discriminated against the most? It's not that racism against white people doesn't exist or that it isn't harmful when it does happen, but come on, how often does it happen by comparison? Anyone who is being honest with themselves and who knows even a little bit about our past should be able to figure this out.

If they're both racist, why aren't whiteface and blackface equal?

In a word: history. Pin It

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