Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wearing Blackface, Sullivan High School Seniors Play Powder-Puff Football Game

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM

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See also: 9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Dressing like a Ferguson Protester for Halloween - TWITTER

Kolb says these two examples of blackface — from the same geographic area — speaks to the widespread ignorance of black history within overwhelmingly white towns like Sullivan and Washington.

"People are so uncomfortable talking about race, and when you try to have a conversation about race in America, you see a wall go up in front of people's faces," she says. "Critical, sympathetic and analytic thought just goes out the window."

That's why Kolb thinks it's most helpful to introduce the topic of racism and blackface in broad terms — that is, to address the history of systemic or cultural racism, as opposed to labeling a particular person as racist and working outward.

"Putting conversations about institutional racism in a historical context usually defuses what can be difficult conversations inside and outside of the classroom," she says. "Having conversations about individual racism without that context leads to a logical and emotional breakdown, typically."

The blackface Halloween costume provides Kolb a perfect example of that conversational breakdown. The photos, posted on November 1 by a Twitter user named Justin, elicited immediate criticism and accusations of racism. In response, Justin demonstrated what happens when, as Kolb predicted, your "critical, sympathetic and analytic thought flies out the window."

click to enlarge VIA

It's also possible that Justin is a Twitter troll.

click to enlarge VIA

The way Kolb sees it, there's no way Justin would consider dressing up in blackface — or equating his buddy's Michael Brown costume to a hypothetical black person dressing up as Klansman — if he knew some basic history.

For instance, one fact Justin might want to know is that the Jim Crow era — known for the racist segregation laws that ruled many U.S. cities and states until 1965 — got its name from an early blackface "performer" named Jim Crow, who helped popularized minstrel acts in the 1830s and 1840s.

"Connecting the original Jim Crow performer's blackface to Jim Crow laws puts it all in context," she says. "It's not about the individuals, it's about a lack of sensitivity for both the historical context of blackface and the Michael Brown situation itself, which many of us see as indicative of much larger issues surrounding institutional racism."

If you're interested in learning more about the history of blackface, Kolb recommends this detailed FAQ on the subject from PBS, as well as a "A Brief History of Blackface," authored by a North Carolina State University associate professor Blair L. M. Kelley.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at

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