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John Drahozal

Cristian ethics
Research paper
5/1/17
Black Face
Black face is a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by non-

black performers. It was used primarily in Minstrel shows but can still be seen

today as people still paint their face black. There is poverty, war and racism

all over the world. Specifically racism has halted the progress of America and

many countries for hundreds of years. When will it stop, and when can we as

a human race recognize everyone as being equals? We need someone or

something that can combat racism and racist doings because they are still

wide spread today. Since the early 1800s black people were represented

unfairly in all kinds of media. Most dont know what it represents to the black

community and all the rhetoric that was used to keep African Americans

down at the bottom of the totem pole for hundreds of years. For almost a

century white people would paint their face black to resemble African

Americans and put on minstrel shows as entertainment for white people.

Looking over certain texts, specifically a paper written by Helgard Pretorius,

it is clear that the history of Blackface is a long and painful one for African

Americans.

It is important to know the history and consequences of your actions

and knowing that what you do will affect those around you. Before you can

make an ethical argument on whether painting your face black is a good idea
it would be good to understand the history behind it and the rhetoric used.

There are many articles that can be found online and websites specifically

outlining what blackface was and how it originated. It all seemed that every

article was geared toward the same intended audience. It was either an

informative article where the writer outlined the history of blackface and why

it was racist, or an article about people painting there face black recently and

explaining why it was racist to do so. But what exactly is someone saying

when they paint there face black, and what does it symbolizes?

The best website for learning about the history of blackface is a

website called blackface.com, which was a good starting point for

researching the history of blackface. Reading through the website you could

see that most of the facts are directly linked to what you would hear in

classes about race and the history of African Americans. Black face was

primarily used in a theater setting in the 1820s to the early 1890s. It was

normally done by white people to make fun of black people by doing skits

that highlighted the most degrading and ugly stereotypes about black people

to make the audience laugh. Often the performers would paint their faces

with large red lips, big eyes, and large teeth to try and portray what they

thought a black person looked like. They would then use vulgar language and

perform skits on how they thought a normal life of a black person would be.

These shows dominated popular show business up until the 1890s, then

started to decline up until the 1930s. In the 1930s it was primarily seen on

television shows which portrayed black people as dimwitted, unintelligent


and or savages. As a result, the genre played an important role in shaping

perceptions of and prejudices about African Americans in particular. Some

social commentators have stated that blackface provided an outlet for

whites' fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar, and a socially acceptable

way of expressing their feelings and fears about race and control.

Back in the early 1800s it was common for minstrel shows to be

performed all around the United States. These shows, while frowned upon on

todays world, were deemed okay back before the civil rights movement. Toll

(1974) wrote that White performers had been blacking up since before the

American Revolution, though minstrel shows did not crystallize into a distinct

tradition until the 1840s (p. 26). In 1843, four White men calling themselves

The Virginia Minstrels darkened their faces, adopted exaggerated dialects

to parody Black speech, and performed a mixture of comedy and songs

(Arceneaux, Noah). Most people enjoyed the shows because they did not

understand African American culture and found it funny. Many people in the

northern states may never have seen a black person before so when they

saw cartoons and shows, they actually thought thats how black people

looked and acted. They did not think right away that the people were being

racist. They just saw it as entertainment. Not until the mid-1900 did people

flip the switch and deem these shows and cartoons as wrong and racist.

When looking at this from an ethical perspective it is easy to say that it was

not a Christian thing to do to make fun of African Americans but you have to

realize that many did not realize at the time how wrong they were when they
made these cartoons and put on these shows. Only until African American

culture was prominent all over America did people see how poorly they

treated the African Americans.

Between the 1930s and 1950s there was another outlet for white

people to spread racism across America and that was through the use of

cartoons and images. These images labeled black people as coons or

darkies. A darkie was a character who had big googly eyes, inky skin, and

exaggerated white or red lips, and a bright white teeth. This is how black

people were portrayed in cartoons and comic strips in the newspaper. It was

white peoples ideology that was passed down for previous generations that

allowed for this to continue for a very long time. For years it was ok for

society to look at a black person and think of them as lesser in every way.

For decades, all forms of media would portray black people as dimwitted

savages, symbolizing everything that was wrong with America. African

Americans, more specifically, African American males were the scapegoats of

America. It was so prevalent that it was even in cartoons that we still see

today. In fact blackface was one of the influences in the character Mickey

Mouse which is a well-known character today. By the early 1950s the NAACP

decided that it was time to put an end to the blackface in movies, comic

strips, and cartoons. They are very hard to find now as most images on the

internet are edited or have been taken down.

There have been a few instances in the past 15 years that have been

controversial involving blackface. One major example that stirred up the


most controversy is a sketch that was done by the writers of Saturday Night

Live, which is a very popular live television performance that airs every

Saturday night. In the sketch the writers portrayed Barak Obama as a darkie

with exaggerated lips which stirred up some controversy. This was perceived

very badly by the media because it made the writers come off as racist

towards the African American community. Another controversy that has come

up locally is when two college students painted their faces black and posted

a picture on social media to celebrate black history month. They were met

with widespread criticism because the picture they took looked as if they

were making fun of black people. The students, after all the controversy, said

that they had no idea what blackface was and that they had no intentions of

offending anyone. Some people were skeptical of the apology and didnt

believe the students but it seemed as if they had no idea what blackface

was. This just shows the ignorance in todays society of blackface and what it

symbolizes. Blackface is rhetoric used to show African Americans as

unintelligent savages that cannot partake in the richness of American

culture.

In a specific text written by Helgard Pretorius it is clear that black face

is still present in our world. In 2014 two incidents occurred at two of the most

celebrated universities in South Africa, causing a stir in the media and on

various social media platforms. The photos caused outrage across the

country, but particularly among black students of the universities (Pretorius,

Helgard). The perpetrators were accused of taking part in blackface and


mocking African Americans. Although this did not take place in the United

States it still important to understand the similarities between instances.

Solemn faced and nervous, each of them took a step forward as their turn

came and read their statements. They expressed remorse at what they had

done, saying: We want to express our deepest and sincerest apologies for

the hurt that we caused (Coetzee 2014:3). They admitted that they were

ignorant of the gravity of their actions and of the painful effects it would

have on others (Pretorius, Helgard). They then go on to say that what they

did is not justifiable by any measure and they have reminded people of

South Africas violent and dark past toward African Americans.

The misconception about blackface is that it is no longer a big deal to

paint your face black in todays society. The fact of the matter is that it

happens more often than you think and it is always frowned upon. Every

article online reads almost the same way where the writer talks about how it

is racist to paint your face black. In the main article that I researched it is

clear that this is still an ongoing problem because it is still being talked about

today, even though the picture was put on snapchat over 6 months ago.

Many news stations have done a story about it, and have reached out to the

two girls who posted the picture. Often other people will chime in with the

same opinion and will often say hurtful language at whoever paints there

face black. The older generation seems to understand why giving yourself a

blackface means but the younger generations are still ignorant toward the
subject because they never grew up where racism was so prevalent in the

white American culture.

When doing an ethical analysis it is important that you know the four

sources of Christian ethics. The first is Scripture which is the accepted canon

of written accounts of faith of the Apostles. The second is tradition which is

the process of handing on the apostolic faith throughout generations. The

third is reason, which is simply the disciplined application of human

intelligence. And finally experience, maintains the link between ethics and

observable reality. These four sources of ethics are crucial to cultivating a

good ethical decision based in Cristian ethics. That being said we as human

beings are tried every day by the power of evil and wrong doing. It is

important to look at the past and try and figure out what people were

thinking back then and judging how ethical they were.

When doing an ethical analysis it is important to focus on one specific

point and analyze it. Looking specifically at the girls who painted there face

black at the university of Dubuque. They claim that they did it to show to the

African American community that they supported them and believe that all

people should be equal. They probably thought that it was fine as they were

just celebrating black history month. They did not understand the history

behind painting your face black and were ignorant to do so. Blackface was a

tradition that was passed down through many generations but it was not a

good tradition based on Cristian ethics. In fact it was the opposite. One would
think that after hundreds of years that people would learn from their

mistakes and stop repeating them.

Kyte talks about in his book that there is a categorical imperative that

we should all live by. Basically he says that we should all act in such a way

that we would want other people to act in a similar situation. It is similar to

the golden rule. Back before the civil rights movement there were many

people who were raised with preconceptions that black people were not

equal and therefore should be treated like it. Many people in the 1950s still

had grandparents who at one time owned slaves. There reasoning for

treating African Americans so badly was because children absorbed what

their parents had taught them so it was tradition to see African Americans as

second rate citizens. These minstrel shows that were performed, were

performed to a make fun of African Americans and those who saw them

could generally figure it out pretty quick through the rhetoric that was used.

The performers knew what they were doing when they put on these shows. It

wasnt up for interpretation. They were made to put the African American

minority beneath the whites and show how unintelligent, and dimwitted they

were. Those people did not have this categorical imperative and did not treat

human beings with the respect that they deserve.

It is surprising that when looking at scripture that more people did not

see the wrong that they were doing. Jesus, through scripture, has laid out a

pathway for Christians concerning how to act and treat others who are

different than you. He teaches us that we should always be courageous in


times of hardship and adversity. That being said it is difficult for anyone who

partakes in painting there face black is living a Cristian life or is living

through Christian ethics. Everything that Christianity teaches is to help the

poor and vulnerable every way that we can. That means standing up to

racism and the horrible outcomes that have happened because of it. Painting

your face black is not and never will be a good way to combat racism. It has

been a outlet for white people to dismiss the black community as dimwitted

savages for hundreds of years.

Another Cardinal virtue that is important for people to understand is

that if they just take the time, do some research about blackface, and obtain

the wisdom necessary they will realize that it is not funny and has no place in

todays society. Most people probably dont realize what they are doing but

that doesnt make it ok. Ignorance of the history of blackface should not

happen. In fact if you paint your face black it is because you have heard of it

and still chose to do it. You cannot paint your face black and then plead

ignorance of the hundreds of excruciating years that African Americans have

endured in this country. It is cultural racism that has continued through the

generations. A white person cannot openly say that they hate African

Americans, so they emit these racist thoughts symbolically. One of those

ways just so happens to be painting your face black.

To understand why painting your face black is not ethical nor based in

Christian ethics, you must understand the rhetoric used. For centuries African

Americans were painted as savages and had no place in America. Black face
is a symbol of all the racism that has taken place and continues to happen

over the past hundred and fifty years. The worst part about it is that it is not

likely to stop because racism is still being taught all over the world. The color

of ones skin determines much more than it should. In America African

Americans in particular are still being discriminated against years after the

civil rights movement. They are told where they can live, where they go to

school, which ultimately decides what kind of job they get and where they

end up on the socioeconomic scale. The odds are pitted against them and

white people generally either dont care or dont want to take action to even

the playing field. This is exactly why blackface and similar racist gestures still

exist in our world. The general population is ignorant towards the last two

centuries about what we have done as a country to continue the tradition of

race determining how successful you can get in life. We as a country must

continue to work for justice and create a world where racism is nonexistent

and everyone can have an equal opportunity to make it in America. It is up to

us to abolish this rhetoric used and live a life based in Cristian Ethics. It all

starts off with obtaining the wisdom necessary to understand that something

needs to change and change fast.


Sources

"Black Face, Maligned Race." Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

"Blackface! - The History of Racist Blackface Stereotypes." Blackface Icon

small. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

"Blackface." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 10 Mar.

2017.

Arceneaux, Noah. "Blackface Broadcasting in the Early Days of Radio."

Journal of Radio Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, May 2005, pp. 61-73. EBSCOhost,

doi:10.1207/s15506843jrs1201_6
Pretorius, Helgard. "Reading 'Blackface': A (Narrative) Introduction to Richard

Kearney's Notion of Carnal Hermeneutics." Hervormde Teologiese Studies,

vol. 72, no. 3, July 2016, pp. 1-9. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4102/hts.v72i3.3122.