Blackface: White Racist Fantasy

W. Fitzhugh Brundage
Feb 21, 2019 - 5:00

At the heart of the blackface tradition is a paradox: why do white men in the United States want to darken their skin to impersonate a disadvantaged and oppressed population? The seemingly obvious answer is that white men want to further the oppression of African Americans. Yet the white elected state officials in Virginia, Florida, and elsewhere who were recently exposed for having worn blackface profess to be champions of...

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2 Replies to “Blackface: White Racist Fantasy”

  1. Thank you for the in depth lesson on the origins of blackface. I realize that I had only a surface understanding of the history and now also have confirmation that what I suspected was at the root of white men’s obsession with this behavior.

  2. For me, as both a scholar and a white person, the history of blackface is one of the most compelling ways to trace white racism. The history of blackface helps explain the power of racism, which in part comes from the visceral pleasure of hatred and asserted superiority, but also from a power combination of ignorance, fascination, fantasy, and envy. Blackface, it seems to me, makes all of those impulses literally visible when whites apply shoe polish, coal ash, or whatever to their skin.
    Perhaps most important, blackface is something that whites invented and so it puts the onus on whites to explain it. We can’t dodge the responsibility by claiming that “everybody does it.”

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