Crikey Clarifier

Oct 8, 2009

What’s all the fuss about ‘blackface’?

In light of all the scandal following last night's Hey Hey it's Saturday, which featured a blackface skit, Crikey intern Melanie Mahony clarifies the history of blackface. Is it racist?

Australia, and the world’s media, is currently up in arms about "that" skit on last night’s most watched program Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Guest Harry Connick Jnr was mortified by the performance in which a group of esteemed surgeons painted their faces black (and one white) in a tribute to the Jackson 5. Apparently a lot of people are puzzled by Connick’s reaction. J. Hansford, for example, expressed confusion on the Herald Sun website this morning:
What's racist about it?... We got men who dress as women. Women who dress as men... What's wrong with white people made up as black people?... I don't see the problem?
Well J. Hansford, here’s the problem: despite whether the skit was intentionally racist or not, ‘blackface’ humour, in which a white person paints their face black and pretends to be a black person, has a very negative connotation, both in America and around the world. The history of "blackface" as entertainment According to John Strausbaugh, the author of Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture, "Blackface" was/is part of a trend which displays "Blackness for the enjoyment and edification of white viewers". During the 19th century, a time when millions of African people were enslaved in America, a style of theatre known as "minstrel shows", in which white actors would dress like "black people" by exaggerating the size of their lips, wearing torn clothes and using burnt cork or shoe polish to blacken their faces, began to emerge as a popular form of entertainment. The portrayal of black people in these shows depicted them as "buffoonish, lazy, superstitious 'coons' who were thieves, pathological liars and lascivious devils bent on destroying white female purity". These were not light-hearted skits referencing black culture, "blackface" theatre depicted black people in "a degrading manner under the auspices of being accurate portrayals of black people". A history of "blackface" from the Spike Lee film Bamboozled:


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43 thoughts on “What’s all the fuss about ‘blackface’?

  1. the duke

    I just returned from London and am SICK of this story…….

    Why is it that the so called ‘white people’ are the only ones that can be racist???

  2. bpobjie

    Good God, the most irritating thing to come out of this issue is the fools calling Connick Jr a “hypocrite”.

    Here is the main difference between the Jackson Jive skit, and the Mad TV skit: Connick Jr was PLAYING A WHITE MAN.

    Have people got it yet? “Look at him, criticising blackface, when HE once performed in blackface!” does not work, if the person you’re talking about has never performed in blackface.

  3. Cynthia Alessi

    Congratulations BPOBJIE for pointing that out. It’s obvious people wish to make themselves feel better on their stance, if they are able to call Jr. a hypocrite.

    The fact of the matter is the skit happened, learn from it, get over it and move on.

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