Yes, Virginia, politics is a dirty business

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Comments

  • I was glad that Trevor Noah acknowledged that those original African "indentured servants" really were indentured servants. It's a phase that didn't last long, to our eternal shame, but the statement was the truth.

  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    Climacus wrote: »
    About a third of Americans say blackface in a Halloween costume is acceptable at least sometimes.

    They don't appear to have been asked about "blackface", but about "using makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume".

    For me, the connotations are quite different. Blackface implies caricature and mockery. No one wearing blackface intends to "appear to be a different race" - blackface is not a disguise, it's a send-up.

    (The main character in Soul Man isn't in blackface - he's not mocking black people, he's trying, fraudulently, to pass as black. Which is clearly wrong, but it is a different sort of wrong - impersonating you to commit a fraud does not imply that I despise those aspects of your appearance that I am imitating, merely that I need to adopt them to look like you. I don't think Soul Man is evidence that black face was more acceptable in the 80s (though I suspect it probably was). It's a long. long time since I saw that film, but I don't recall it being pro-racist, or at least, if it was, those aren't the bits that stuck with me).

    "Using make-up" is a far more neutral description. 35% of the survey (including 26% of blacks and 32% of hispanics) think that doing that to portray another race is sometimes OK and sometimes not (and this rises to 47%/45%.45% if costume is used but no make-up is involved). Presumably, because sometimes it's done to offend, and sometimes it isn't. I'm with them.

  • OhherOhher Shipmate
    Eliab wrote: »
    Climacus wrote: »
    About a third of Americans say blackface in a Halloween costume is acceptable at least sometimes.

    They don't appear to have been asked about "blackface", but about "using makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume".

    For me, the connotations are quite different. Blackface implies caricature and mockery. No one wearing blackface intends to "appear to be a different race" - blackface is not a disguise, it's a send-up.

    (The main character in Soul Man isn't in blackface - he's not mocking black people, he's trying, fraudulently, to pass as black. Which is clearly wrong, but it is a different sort of wrong - impersonating you to commit a fraud does not imply that I despise those aspects of your appearance that I am imitating, merely that I need to adopt them to look like you. I don't think Soul Man is evidence that black face was more acceptable in the 80s (though I suspect it probably was). It's a long. long time since I saw that film, but I don't recall it being pro-racist, or at least, if it was, those aren't the bits that stuck with me).

    "Using make-up" is a far more neutral description. 35% of the survey (including 26% of blacks and 32% of hispanics) think that doing that to portray another race is sometimes OK and sometimes not (and this rises to 47%/45%.45% if costume is used but no make-up is involved). Presumably, because sometimes it's done to offend, and sometimes it isn't. I'm with them.

    This.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited February 13
    Climacus wrote: »
    And I am not criticising Americans here; I don't think I'd like to see a similar poll from Australia.

    I'm not familiar with the Australian context, but here's a quick explainer on American blackface for the benefit of the Ship's non-Americans.
    The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that depicted people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and all-black minstrel groups that formed and toured under the direction of white people. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

    <snip>

    Blackface minstrelsy was the first theatrical form that was distinctly American. During the 1830s and 1840s at the height of its popularity, it was at the epicenter of the American music industry. For several decades, it provided the means through which American whites viewed black people. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of what some whites considered significant aspects of black culture in America.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Climacus wrote: »
    And I am not criticising Americans here; I don't think I'd like to see a similar poll from Australia.

    I'm not familiar with the Australian context, but here's a quick explainer on American blackface for the benefit of the Ship's non-Americans.
    ...

    Blackface minstrelsy was the first theatrical form that was distinctly American. During the 1830s and 1840s at the height of its popularity, it was at the epicenter of the American music industry. For several decades, it provided the means through which American whites viewed black people. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of what some whites considered significant aspects of black culture in America.

    I think it must have spread across the pond, too - there's a PG Wodehouse story where Bertie Wooster and Tuppy Glossop "black up" with burnt cork and disguise themselves as minstrels to escape from someone's yacht or something?
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited February 13
    Thank you Eliab and Ohher for your views -- blackface is something I am only vaguely familiar with in terms of in-depth knowledge.

    And thank you Crœsos for that information -- you are always very helpful with explaining concepts to non-Americans, and the bolded part in particular is something we need to keep in mind for context.

    I may be wrong, but I think the Australian context was that it was imported wholesale here from the States. As Simon wrote, in 2009 there was a display of it on popular network show (news article, but there is a photo). Well done Harry Connick Jr for calling it out, but it clearly fell on death ears (or the network thought there was publicity to be made from it). Hearing comments from acquaintances and colleagues at the time that it "was only a bit of fun" was what made me think I don't want to know the results of a similar poll in Oz. I doubt the views have changed much.


    edit: link is news article (with photo)
  • The term blackface has evolved, though, so that if you look up most dictionary definitions of it now it includes all performances in which a non-black performer wears makeup in order to portray someone who is black - regardless of whether or not the performance is meant to act out racial stereotypes. Similar terms have popped up to describe wearing makeup to portray other races and ethnicities, such a "brownface" and "yellowface."

    The emerging consensus is that in performance, black roles should be performed by black performers. In opera, it is still common for non-black singers to play Otello, but more needs to be done to develop more black male opera stars, and if a non-black singer plays Otello, it should be done without any dark makeup or wigs and with great racial awareness and sensitivity. (We can put aside the whole issue of whether Moors were "black" in the modern sense.)

    In the poll cited above, the "blackface" in a Halloween costume probably means a non-white person - not a professional performer - using dark makeup to dress up as any black person for Halloween - not like a performer in blackface in a minstrel show (most younger white Americans probably know little at all about minstrel shows). It includes costumes portraying specific black celebrities or characters, as well as those portraying a general category of black people.
  • The best rule of thumb is that if you are non-black and there is a black celebrity or character that you greatly respect, you should dress as them with clothes but not with makeup, masks, or wigs (the negative and fetishistic stereotypes about African hair are a whole other issue). Don't try to pad your costume to increase the size of your hips or breasts. Given the stereotypes that are out there, it's probably not a good idea to wear lots of gold chains, gold grills on your teeth, a baseball hat on backwards, and pants sagging down your legs, no matter how much you admire any celebrity that dresses that way. The same goes for any Halloween outfit with traditional African clothing, even if it is of a historical figure like Shaka. Don't even think about dressing up as a character that wears the orange jumpsuit of a prison inmate (such as one from "Orange is the New Black"). You should realize that you are walking on very thin ice if you try to use your voice, mannerisms, and gestures to imitate that celebrity or character. Because most adult Halloween costumes portraying specific people are intended to be somewhat satirical, it's just very hard to pull this off. This means that there is a double standard with dressing as white people vs dressing as people of other races that should exist while structural racism is rampant.

    It may seem politically unfair that people of all races and political views can dress like Trump (or Bush, Reagan, Nixon, etc.) and ham it up all they want but white people have to be very careful dressing and acting like Obama. I don't think having non-white non-performers dress as Obama or even do impersonations of him are completely out of bounds. There are also lots of ways to satirize a politician, though, without dressing as them (or drawing them, for that matter, which also needs to be done very carefully with a white cartoonist drawing black politicians).

    It's a great idea for non-black children to dress as characters like Tiana from Disney's the Princess and the Frog (aside from issues of whether girls and/or boys should aspire to be princesses), Black Panther (the superhero, at least in his super suit), or a real-life figure they admire such as MLK, Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, former Pres. Obama, or Ben Carson (acknowledging that different children and families have different heroes). Just don't have them put on any makeup, wigs, or masks of a person's face (a Black Panther mask is fine). Young children's costumes are often much more about "being" a character and less about satirizing them.
  • A recently released poll shows that Virginians are evenly split (47-47) on whether Gov. Northam should resign and 58 percent of African-American Virginians say he should remain in office (compared with 46 percent of white Virginians).
  • We're seeing a lot of different proposals for how to deal with past sins-- whether racism, sexism, homophobia-- and a lot of different models from pols, religious leaders and others. The leading contenders (here and elsewhere) seem to be:

    1. age of offense: there's a particular cut off date-- i.e. you're allowed to be a jerk up until age X, then you gotta grow up and be a decent human being.

    2. chronological distance: if the offense was X number of years ago, we can let it go, but if it's more recent, no.

    3. cultural relativism: if the offense was one that was common at the time-- i.e. all your peers were similarly racist/sexist/homophobic, then it's OK

    None of those really work for me. They don't seem to fit with our experience (religious or otherwise but I'm gonna frame it in religious terms cuz that's the way I think) of sin and transformation. What I appreciate in a leader who has a dirty past (and we all do to some degree) is something more like this:

    1. Honest and frank acknowledgment of the transgression, including an accurate statement of WHY it's problematic. Pro tip: saying "this caused offense" doesn't do it-- that suggests the problem lies in the offended person, or that the offense is problematic only because of the emotional reaction it got. That's a PR response (it was unwise) rather than a true recognition of the problem.

    2. A statement of how you came to understand why behavior X is problematic-- something that shows a process, because change is always a process.

    3. A statement of the steps you have taken to correct the problematic behavior, and a measurable track record of the difference that has made.
  • stonespringstonespring Shipmate
    edited February 13
    1. Honest and frank acknowledgment of the transgression, including an accurate statement of WHY it's problematic. Pro tip: saying "this caused offense" doesn't do it-- that suggests the problem lies in the offended person, or that the offense is problematic only because of the emotional reaction it got. That's a PR response (it was unwise) rather than a true recognition of the problem.

    2. A statement of how you came to understand why behavior X is problematic-- something that shows a process, because change is always a process.

    3. A statement of the steps you have taken to correct the problematic behavior, and a measurable track record of the difference that has made.

    These are great in evaluating whether or not, all other things being equal, a politician should resign over a significant past transgression. However, when it comes to deciding whether to pressure a politician to resign or not, it's also worth taking into account:

    4. Whether a politician can govern effectively or get a legislative agenda passed effectively if they have lost all political capital/goodwill due to a scandal that makes other politicians and community stakeholders want to cooperate with them, and whether the constant distraction of having to deal with a scandal takes too much time away from governing.

    5. Whether or not anyone who will replace the politician who resigns,
    or the effect of having a reduction in a party's numbers in the legislature if a seat is left vacant (in both cases assuming no election will be held soon to fill the vacancy),
    will put power in the hands of a politician or party who is likely to govern much worse than the politician pressured to resign, or who will implement policies that are much more harmful to the common good, or that will make the community affected by the racism or other form of bigotry that the scandal involves worse off than the policies of the politician currently in office.

    (Sorry about the grammatically incorrect use of commas, and any other grammatical errors.)
  • helpful additions.
  • Two excellent posts, with Stonespring taking the words about politics out of my mouth.

    What a pity Northram didn't comply with these points, especially Cliff's.
  • The term blackface has evolved...Similar terms have popped up to describe wearing makeup to portray other races and ethnicities, such a "brownface" and "yellowface."

    The emerging consensus is that in performance, black roles should be performed by black performers. In opera, it is still common for non-black singers to play Otello, but more needs to be done to develop more black male opera stars, and if a non-black singer plays Otello, it should be done without any dark makeup or wigs and with great racial awareness and sensitivity. (We can put aside the whole issue of whether Moors were "black" in the modern sense.) ...
    The problem with Otello is that there are vanishingly few tenors of any race who can sing the role. Yes, we definitely need to encourage more talented black singers to pursue careers, but we can't limit a great role to only artists of African descent. That's reverse racism. (And it's true that Moors weren't "black" in the modern sense.)

    "Yellowface" is also an issue. (I know one operatic VIP who believes that "Butterfly" should be dropped from the repertoire, and I heard about a production of "Mikado" that had to be moved to an English gentleman's club in order to overcome the objections of an organized group of protesters.) I think wigs are perfectly kosher - and I know a distinguished Japanese lady who says that "Butterfly" is Japan's favorite opera, and that it's fine for Caucasians to do it in traditional Kabuki makeup. Again, voice type is more important than race when it comes to opera.

  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited February 14
    Very helpful, all. Thanks from me.

    Meanwhile, we have a university programme that will achieve appreciation of other cultures through "organised role-playing games and by getting students to enact rituals from cultures other than their own”. What could go wrong? Surely getting those from the cultures concerned would not be difficult. Wollongong is multicultural enough from my understanding, and Sydney is not that far away.

    The full story from a behind-a-paywall news source (Crikey):
    After months of culture warring, the University of Wollongong released details of Australia’s first Ramsay Centre-sponsored degree in Western Civilisation. Select students who display the required (and of course, undefined) “Ramsay Attributes” will be given $27,000 per year for the privilege of studying a glorified high school English course.

    Fortunately, UOW and the Ramsay Centre seem to have taken on board criticisms that the program is a Trojan horse for an uncritical and ahistorical glorification of Western civilisation, and will give students the opportunity to empathise with and understand non-Western cultures. And what better way to do that than a spot of cultural appropriation?

    In a unit entitled “The Great Conversation”, an appreciation for other cultures will be “achieved through organised role-playing games and by getting students to enact rituals from cultures other than their own”. Ramsay Centre’s first blackface scandal in five, four, three…
  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    The term blackface has evolved, though, so that if you look up most dictionary definitions of it now it includes all performances in which a non-black performer wears makeup in order to portray someone who is black - regardless of whether or not the performance is meant to act out racial stereotypes. Similar terms have popped up to describe wearing makeup to portray other races and ethnicities, such a "brownface" and "yellowface."

    I'm aware that some people use "blackface" like that. I think it's a mistake, because the portrayal of black people according to the specific conventions of caricature that the word usually refers to is a separate (and culturally significant) thing, and it's useful to have a word that refers to that in particular.

    It is significant that the headline for the article has "blackface" - a deliberately provocative word but which doesn't appear to have been in the question asked - rather than a more neutral term. What the survey suggests to me is that wearing make-up to represent another race is very strongly influenced by the "blackface" taboo (I can't otherwise explain the 37% 'never acceptable', or the significant difference between the proportion more-or less happy with racial costume with make-up and without) but by no means seen as identical with blackface (given the relative high proportion of people who seem - sensibly in my view - to think that acceptability varies with context).
    The emerging consensus is that in performance, black roles should be performed by black performers. In opera, it is still common for non-black singers to play Otello, but more needs to be done to develop more black male opera stars, and if a non-black singer plays Otello, it should be done without any dark makeup or wigs and with great racial awareness and sensitivity. (We can put aside the whole issue of whether Moors were "black" in the modern sense.)

    The issue there is that black people shouldn't be excluded from professional performance by having 'black' roles* taken by white people. That's obviously an important concern for society as a whole (both because of the need for fairness to individual performer, and because visible diversity in the performing arts matters), but entirely irrelevant to amateur dressing up. No one has to audition for Halloween.
    In the poll cited above, the "blackface" in a Halloween costume probably means a non-white person - not a professional performer - using dark makeup to dress up as any black person for Halloween - not like a performer in blackface in a minstrel show (most younger white Americans probably know little at all about minstrel shows). It includes costumes portraying specific black celebrities or characters, as well as those portraying a general category of black people.

    I suspect that the people responding to the poll had different ideas about what it meant. Taken literally, the question asks about the attempted realistic portrayal of other races (which blackface isn't) but I would be astonished if a large number of responses did not have offensive caricature in mind when answering. The reporter certainly did.

    (*with due allowance for the fact that modern stage conventions seem to be quite comfortable ignoring race (and sometimes gender) altogether when casting - I recently saw a National Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra, with Caesar and Octavia (siblings) played by actors of different ethnicities (and with Agrippa played by a woman). Which was fine.)
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Eliab wrote: »
    The term blackface has evolved, though, so that if you look up most dictionary definitions of it now it includes all performances in which a non-black performer wears makeup in order to portray someone who is black - regardless of whether or not the performance is meant to act out racial stereotypes. Similar terms have popped up to describe wearing makeup to portray other races and ethnicities, such a "brownface" and "yellowface."

    I'm aware that some people use "blackface" like that. I think it's a mistake, because the portrayal of black people according to the specific conventions of caricature that the word usually refers to is a separate (and culturally significant) thing, and it's useful to have a word that refers to that in particular.

    I would argue that, at least in an American context, it's impossible to use blackface without invoking those stereotypes and caricatures. This is somewhat similar to the way it's impossible in current Western culture to claim that a particular ancient religious symbol doesn't necessarily mean support for those guys. You know in advance that the connection is going to be made.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    This is somewhat similar to the way it's impossible in current Western culture to claim that a particular ancient religious symbol doesn't necessarily mean support for those guys. You know in advance that the connection is going to be made.

    Unless the person living in a Western culture using the symbol is Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, etc. (The swastika may have one time also been an ancient Western benevolent symbol, but that time is over.) Outside of a specifically Eastern religious or cultural context, public display of the swastika in Western cultures should be avoided. (There are some Western secular buildings from the pre-Nazi era that incorporated the swastika as a good luck symbol, and I think it should be up to local communities, listening especially to local Jewish communities, to decide what to do with them. No new secular buildings should be built with swastikas, though.)
  • Rossweisse wrote: »
    The term blackface has evolved...Similar terms have popped up to describe wearing makeup to portray other races and ethnicities, such a "brownface" and "yellowface."

    The emerging consensus is that in performance, black roles should be performed by black performers. In opera, it is still common for non-black singers to play Otello, but more needs to be done to develop more black male opera stars, and if a non-black singer plays Otello, it should be done without any dark makeup or wigs and with great racial awareness and sensitivity. (We can put aside the whole issue of whether Moors were "black" in the modern sense.) ...
    The problem with Otello is that there are vanishingly few tenors of any race who can sing the role. Yes, we definitely need to encourage more talented black singers to pursue careers, but we can't limit a great role to only artists of African descent. That's reverse racism. (And it's true that Moors weren't "black" in the modern sense.)

    "Yellowface" is also an issue. (I know one operatic VIP who believes that "Butterfly" should be dropped from the repertoire, and I heard about a production of "Mikado" that had to be moved to an English gentleman's club in order to overcome the objections of an organized group of protesters.) I think wigs are perfectly kosher - and I know a distinguished Japanese lady who says that "Butterfly" is Japan's favorite opera, and that it's fine for Caucasians to do it in traditional Kabuki makeup. Again, voice type is more important than race when it comes to opera.

    Moors may not have been black in the modern sense, but the character of Othello/Otello has become, with the development of modern notions of race, a black character and no attempt to restore "historical accuracy" is going to erase that. Shakespeare was writing when the modern slave trade was developing in the Atlantic - even if English colonies and slavery within them had not really taken off yet - and that must have informed his ideas about Otello's skin color, even if the play itself does not touch upon chattel slavery of people of African descent. The notion of race that emerged with chattel slavery had to have influenced Verdi even more so.

    Othello (in professional stagings of Shakespearean drama) is already pretty much limited to black performers, at least anywhere there are black people, and rightfully so. (Even in a country with hardly any black people, it would be hard to stage a professional production of Othello without a very high risk of being racially problematic.) I agree that the politics of having a white opera singer perform Otello (with no attempts to make him look black), but that might be because Opera exists more in its own bubble - and is a bit more behind the times - than theater does. And it is also true that there are not many black male opera stars, although more should be done to encourage and develop talented black stars. That's why I implicitly acknowledged that we probably are going to see white singers perform Otello for the time being, and said that it has be done very carefully.

    The same with Madama Butterfly. We need to encourage and develop talent among female singers of East Asian descent. Obviously nothing should be done to give a white performer East Asian facial features. If a white performer takes on the role, as often happens, great care should be taken.

    When I mentioned wigs, I meant to focus on white people wearing wigs to appear to have "black" (as in Sub-Saharan African) hair. There are a lot of stereotypes, fetishes, obsessions, prohibitions, etc., that Western (and some non-Western) cultures have developed around "black" hair, so it's best for non-Black people to just not use such wigs.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Othello (in professional stagings of Shakespearean drama) is already pretty much limited to black performers, at least anywhere there are black people, and rightfully so.

    Not necessarily.
  • Eliab wrote: »
    I'm aware that some people use "blackface" like that. I think it's a mistake, because the portrayal of black people according to the specific conventions of caricature that the word usually refers to is a separate (and culturally significant) thing, and it's useful to have a word that refers to that in particular.

    I haven't encountered anyone who uses the term blackface to exclusively refer to minstrel shows. I think the overwhelming majority of people being surveyed (for whom the term blackface means anything) in the survey under discussion take it to mean any altering of skin color by a non-black person in order to resemble a black person. I think there is subset of the people who find all blackface offensive who know very little about the origin of the term from minstrel shows.

    Who are the people that you know that use the term blackface to refer exclusively to minstrel shows?
    (*with due allowance for the fact that modern stage conventions seem to be quite comfortable ignoring race (and sometimes gender) altogether when casting - I recently saw a National Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra, with Caesar and Octavia (siblings) played by actors of different ethnicities (and with Agrippa played by a woman). Which was fine.)

    The vast majority of roles in theater have traditionally been portrayed by whites only. If non-white actors were restricted to only performing roles of their own race or ethnicity, it would severely limit their career opportunities (and it has done so in the past) - and I think you allude to this.

    I think you acknowledge that limiting black roles to black performers is about more than the issue of opportunities for black performers, though. It's about the very idea of a white performer performing a black role being fraught in a way that having a black performer perform a white (or racially ambiguous) role is not.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Othello (in professional stagings of Shakespearean drama) is already pretty much limited to black performers, at least anywhere there are black people, and rightfully so.

    Not necessarily.

    Why not have the entire production, Othello included, be black? It may be coming from a place of good intentions and with the intent to question racial stereotypes, but it's also a really good excuse to get Patrick Stewart to be able to be your Othello and sell more tickets. I still think it's best to have only black performers perform Othello, at least for the next few centuries.
  • ...Othello (in professional stagings of Shakespearean drama) is already pretty much limited to black performers, at least anywhere there are black people, and rightfully so. ... I agree that the politics of having a white opera singer perform Otello (with no attempts to make him look black), but that might be because Opera exists more in its own bubble - and is a bit more behind the times - than theater does. And it is also true that there are not many black male opera stars, although more should be done to encourage and develop talented black stars. That's why I implicitly acknowledged that we probably are going to see white singers perform Otello for the time being, and said that it has be done very carefully. ...
    I strongly disagree about limiting roles to particular types of people. Casting should be according to talent and ability. At a time when color-blind casting in the rule in most aspects of theater (and opera is definitely theater), that shouldn't be a consideration. Just I would oppose denying a role to a performer of color, I oppose denying roles to white performers who have the ability to perform them well. One just has to be sure to avoid things like blackface.

    More is being done to encourage talented male black singers. But it's hard to make a living in the field; it's going to take more time to build up a critical mass.
    ... The same with Madama Butterfly. We need to encourage and develop talent among female singers of East Asian descent. Obviously nothing should be done to give a white performer East Asian facial features. If a white performer takes on the role, as often happens, great care should be taken. ...
    There are plenty of female singers of East Asian descent who have performed the roles of Butterfly and Suzuki. But, again, voice type is the most important consideration. Prima la voce!*

    * For sticklers on the SoF language rules, that means "The voice comes first."

  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    Who are the people that you know that use the term blackface to refer exclusively to minstrel shows?

    Not specifically and solely minstrel shows , but that style of caricature.

    Very recent example - I was at a LARP event this weekend, and we finished up with a group AGM. One of the things that was said by way of advice to players was that when using full face make up (which we do a lot, to represent other races, though, to be fair, rarely other human races) it would be a good idea to ensure that the colouring doesn't just cover the front of the face, but is blended into the sides and neck and up to the hairline, and covers the areas around the eyes and mouth. Why? "So it doesn't look like you're wearing blackface".

    I think everyone there understood the meaning without needing any explanation - wearing make-up is one thing, which, obviously, none of us have a problem with. But quite few of us didn't want photos of us in costume ending up on the internet that look as if we are mocking other races. And the single word "blackface" was used to make that distinction. It's a distinct make-up style that the speaker was advising us to avoid the appearance of, in contrast to make-up use generally.


    More importantly, the reporter on the survey linked to is making the same distinction. "One third of Americans think that there are some circumstances where using make-up and costume to portray someone of a different race isn't necessarily offensive" isn't shocking. That statistic doesn't make me think that a third of Americans are racist - it makes me think that a third of Americans are right.

    Saying "About a third of Americans say blackface in a Halloween costume is acceptable at least sometimes" IS shocking, because blackface has strong connotations of offensive mockery that go far beyond dressing up, and DOES imply that a third of Americans are openly racist. Which the survey does not support.
    Crœsos wrote: »
    I would argue that, at least in an American context, it's impossible to use blackface without invoking those stereotypes and caricatures.

    It looks like about 37% of Americans associate absolutely all racial costuming that uses make-up, whether intended to mock and offend, or not, with those caricatures. It's a strong, but not a universal, taboo, at least according to that survey.


  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth Mystery Worship Editor
    Eliab wrote: »
    I was at a LARP event this weekend, and we finished up with a group AGM.
    Meaning?
  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    Live-Action Role Play.

    Annual General Meeting.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth Mystery Worship Editor
    Thanks. I was sure it was Los Angeles Raiders Party and All Girl Marathon.
  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    No, that's next week.
  • Rossweisse wrote: »
    I strongly disagree about limiting roles to particular types of people. Casting should be according to talent and ability. At a time when color-blind casting in the rule in most aspects of theater (and opera is definitely theater), that shouldn't be a consideration. Just I would oppose denying a role to a performer of color, I oppose denying roles to white performers who have the ability to perform them well. One just has to be sure to avoid things like blackface.

    Is there any situation in which you think it would be appropriate to cast white actors in the lead roles in Porgy and Bess?
  • Eliab wrote: »
    Who are the people that you know that use the term blackface to refer exclusively to minstrel shows?

    Not specifically and solely minstrel shows , but that style of caricature.

    Very recent example - I was at a LARP event this weekend, and we finished up with a group AGM. One of the things that was said by way of advice to players was that when using full face make up (which we do a lot, to represent other races, though, to be fair, rarely other human races) it would be a good idea to ensure that the colouring doesn't just cover the front of the face, but is blended into the sides and neck and up to the hairline, and covers the areas around the eyes and mouth. Why? "So it doesn't look like you're wearing blackface".

    I think everyone there understood the meaning without needing any explanation - wearing make-up is one thing, which, obviously, none of us have a problem with. But quite few of us didn't want photos of us in costume ending up on the internet that look as if we are mocking other races. And the single word "blackface" was used to make that distinction. It's a distinct make-up style that the speaker was advising us to avoid the appearance of, in contrast to make-up use generally.

    Just because someone uses the term blackface in one context to refer to makeup intended to depict a racial caricature does not mean that that same person does not also use the term to refer to any use of makeup to resemble a black person.

    I think that in the context you describe, makeup was already being used to change a person's skin color (presumably to resemble a non-human race), so care was being recommended to make it not resemble a specific meaning of blackface - that of a racial caricature of African Americans.

    However, if the term blackface was used in a more neutral context, such as discussing Halloween costumes in general, which do not always involve using makeup to change a person's skin color, I think a lot of people, if not most, would understand the term to refer to all makeup that is intended to make someone look black, whether or not it is intended as a racial caricature.

    (I would add that any emphasis of the darkness of a black person's skin in a costume, given the connotations of black people's skin color in our culture, has aspects of caricature.)
    Saying "About a third of Americans say blackface in a Halloween costume is acceptable at least sometimes" IS shocking, because blackface has strong connotations of offensive mockery that go far beyond dressing up, and DOES imply that a third of Americans are openly racist. Which the survey does not support.

    I think it's utterly pointless to argue whether a person's survey response indicates that they are a racist or not (and whether their racism is overtly displayed or not, conscious or not, etc.). What matters is whether or not a person's opinions and actions regarding blackface (using the more general definition of the term) contribute to structural racism and its consequences.
  • stonespringstonespring Shipmate
    edited February 15
    [Deleted duplicate comment]
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    I strongly disagree about limiting roles to particular types of people. Casting should be according to talent and ability. At a time when color-blind casting in the rule in most aspects of theater (and opera is definitely theater), that shouldn't be a consideration. Just I would oppose denying a role to a performer of color, I oppose denying roles to white performers who have the ability to perform them well. One just has to be sure to avoid things like blackface.

    Is there any situation in which you think it would be appropriate to cast white actors in the lead roles in Porgy and Bess?

    It would be next to impossible not to do that here given the small number of non-white performers. Ok, that means that you should try to train up performers, but it would still be difficult to find candidates.
  • Sometimes people can be a bit overly sensitive: A man objected to a photo of Cornish coal miners who appeared to be in blackface. This was in a Cornish pasty shop, with lots of other Cornish miner memorabilia displayed. (It was also, interestingly enough, shortly before the problems in Virginia.)
  • Interesting article. Thx for the link, Pigwidgeon.

    Hmmm...I'm not sure that I'd say "over sensitive" was exactly right. The African-American man who complained was coming from his own background and the problems in American culture. I've seen pics of dust-covered miners before, so I'd probably figure the pic out. He may not have.

    Someone later in the article ("Coal mining a century ago" section) mentioned that miners sometimes did blacken their faces during labor disputes. It's also mentioned that "blackface was common in a variety of contexts in the United Kingdom around the time the photo was taken".

    Plus. in another discussion about blackface (probably on the Vintage Ship, I recall some Americans speaking against it, and some Shipmates from the UK or (former?) Commonwealth countries saying that dressing up in blackface had a place in their culture and they weren't going to change it. (I think there was a discussion of the various reasons they used blackface. To me, as an American steeped in "don't do that!", the reasons weren't satisfying.)

    Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying: I see reason for him to be upset. ISTM likely that the miners were just dirty from work, but I don't know. I personally think the man who was offended may have pushed too far; but I'm not in his demographic with his experiences; and he was under a lot of pressure, once the situation became public.

  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    Golden Key wrote: »
    Hmmm...I'm not sure that I'd say "over sensitive" was exactly right. The African-American man who complained was coming from his own background and the problems in American culture. I've seen pics of dust-covered miners before, so I'd probably figure the pic out. He may not have.

    I think "over-sensitive" is right. I don't think he was wrong to raise the issue with the restaurant owner, for exactly the reasons you give, but once he was given he was given an explanation (they're miners - that's coal dust - we're a Cornish pasty restaurant, mining was an important industry in Cornwall, the pasty was created as a working man's food, which is why we have the photo) that ought to have satisfied any reasonable person that there was absolutely no racism.

    The article he wrote after getting that explanation (which I think is here) is fairly calm, and not unfair to the restaurant owner's position, but it's still basically a complaint about something that he knows has nothing to do with race. He knows - he pretty much says - that the racial aspect is something that he is reading into the photo, which the people who took it and displayed it did not mean. He's deliberately taking offence where none is intended or warranted. That's pretty much the definition of over-sensitive.

    I don't think he deserves much blame for being over-sensitive. If the racism he encounters elsewhere is accurately described in the article (and given the reports of the hate-mail he's received because of it, which is vile, and by far the worst aspect of the case, I'm not inclined to doubt that for a second), it's an entirely understandable reaction. There's still nothing wrong with the photo, though, and objecting to it once you know that is still over-sensitive.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited February 16
    (*with due allowance for the fact that modern stage conventions seem to be quite comfortable ignoring race (and sometimes gender) altogether when casting - I recently saw a National Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra, with Caesar and Octavia (siblings) played by actors of different ethnicities (and with Agrippa played by a woman). Which was fine.)

    I saw a very similar production in Australia, produced by Bell Shakespeare, in which the genders and ethnicities of the characters were similarly mixed. I believe one actor, a woman, played both a male character and a female one. When she was the bloke, she donned a black jacket. It went swimmingly.

    To me, neither the ethnicity nor the gender of the actor matters in Australian theatre, subject always to the proviso that nobody should pretend to be an ethnicity they are not. No making people look like another race. We are at this stage in our history blessed with a large pool of actors from all sorts of backgrounds. The question should always be whether this particular actor can play that particular role.

    Lear is a great example. I've seen men and women in the role. What I would like to see is a particular actor, Kate Mulvany, do Lear tomorrow, while she is still young. I think she is magnificent on stage, one of those actors who can suspend reality for an audience. To see her do it now would break that old Shakespearean myth that Lear is only for elderly actors.

    It must be the same with Opera, save that the pool of talent is smaller. If a performer can sing the role then they should sing the bloody role. As I understand things, it is a massive effort to learn a part in that genre. Just while I am on the subject, I am so excited. Me my wife have tickets to see Rigaletto at the Vienna State Opera in May. :joy:

    I think there are plenty of brown singers who could do the leads in an Australian production of Porgy and Bess. Vicka Bull comes immediately to mind. She's a gospel singer with plenty of stage experience. Blokes are harder for me to think of off the top of my head, but Pacific Islanders like Vicka certainly have tales of forced labor and oppression to draw upon. And many that I have met are top singers, even untrained. There are some African-Australians coming through the acting ranks and appearing on stage. I don't know of any singers yet but I'm not as keen on the various forms of that art.
  • Eliab--

    Thanks for the link. As I read it, he asked other people in his dinner group (a Latinx and a white woman) for their thoughts. First, they said it was coal miners--then they said it was men in blackface. And someone had complained to the owner previously.

    Like I said, I personally think he may have pushed too far. But I don't have his background, and I think it was one more thing on top of a pile of horrible stuff.

    I think people can be over-sensitive, but the term can be kind of like "politically correct": it's what you (gen.) say about someone else's problems.

    My irregular verb version of it:

    I am fighting oppression.
    You are being polite and compassionate.
    They are being politically correct.

    I didn't catch what, if anything, was finally done about the picture. But IMHO posting an explanation next to it might be a middle-of-the-road remedy.
  • Maybe the insensitivity is on the side of the restaurant - wanting to insist on a Cornish heritage in the southern USA?

    I would find him oversensitive objecting to that photograph in Cornwall, but in Arizona, it does feel out of place. But that may be that I can't see why a restaurant would want to base itself on the theme of Cornish pasties.

    Here Cornish pasty outlets are stalls or fast food joints. Good for eating on the go, in your hands, as designed.
  • Why do we have Italian restaurants? German restaurants? Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, French, Thai, etc. etc. restaurants? Arizonans come from all over, and we like to experience different types of food and cultures. I haven't been to the Cornish Pasty restaurant (there are several), but friends rave about it. (They have English ale!)
  • Is there any situation in which you think it would be appropriate to cast white actors in the lead roles in Porgy and Bess?
    I meant to mention P&B. No, because of the provisions in Gershwin's estate that forbid the casting of any but black singers in the opera.


  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Simon Toad wrote: »

    I saw a very similar production in Australia, produced by Bell Shakespeare, in which the genders and ethnicities of the characters were similarly mixed. I believe one actor, a woman, played both a male character and a female one. When she was the bloke, she donned a black jacket. It went swimmingly.large pool of actors from all sorts of backgrounds. The question should always be whether this particular actor can play that particular role.

    A brilliant season - we saw it at (from ancient memory) the Seymour Centre in a season of brilliant acting. Ruth Cracknell was one of the cast and played the tramp in Measure for Measure with some of the very best acting we've ever seen. She just sat with legs dangling over the edge of the stage, and dog Spot climbing out of a Gladstone bag doing its best to upstage her.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited February 17
    What I would give to see Ruth Cracknell on stage! I missed her before her death. The production I saw was Antony & Cleopatra in 2018. Catherine McClements was Cleopatra. I recognised her from the telly and she was great, but the whole ensemble was very good indeed. If you spoke to my wife she might say that I was critical of the first half, but I don't remember that. The second half blew me away. Anyway, I'm usually hyper critical until I work out what's going on.

    Scaramouche Jones Gee. If it plays again see it. It's a solo show, an old mixed race clown telling the story of his life and the twentieth century. We saw Pete Postlethwaite do it the first time around, and then Colin Friels. It is spellbinding.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    She was a great actress (and that's the word she used to describe herself in her memoirs). I cannot remember now who else was involved, but they were all good.
  • Rossweisse--
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    Is there any situation in which you think it would be appropriate to cast white actors in the lead roles in Porgy and Bess?
    I meant to mention P&B. No, because of the provisions in Gershwin's estate that forbid the casting of any but black singers in the opera.

    Interesting! I'd never heard that. Are the reasons known? E.g., artistic, sympathy with another despised minority, etc.

    Thx.
  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Interesting! I'd never heard that. Are the reasons known? E.g., artistic, sympathy with another despised minority, etc.

    Thx.
    I think he wanted to provide work for African-American singers. I think he was also concerned about authenticity.


  • Penny SPenny S Shipmate
    No coal in Cornwall, and I suspect the undoubted skills of Cornish miners are somewhat different from those of coal miners, for geological reasons, so it isn't appropriate in a pasty shop, anyway.
  • EliabEliab Shipmate, Purgatory Host
    Maybe the insensitivity is on the side of the restaurant - wanting to insist on a Cornish heritage in the southern USA?

    If enough customers buy pasties under that branding to keep the restaurant in business, why does it matter?

    The point is that not that the photo is appealing, or relevant, or tasteful, or a good marketing strategy, or whatever. It's that it's not racist. Not even remotely. And once someone understands that it's not remotely racist, to continue to object to it on those grounds, as Mr Thomas did, is over-sensitive.

    I'm not especially blaming him for being over-sensitive. His article set out why he feels the way he does, but isn't aggressive or especially irrational. That doesn't change the fact that he's reacting to something he knows to be innocent, because, for him, it raised associations with something else which was intended offensively, and that is over-sensitivity.

    Everyone's over-sensitive about some things. I certainly am. I just don't write to newspapers expecting that to result in the things I'm over-sensitive about being removed or re-arranged for my better comfort.
  • Penny S wrote: »
    No coal in Cornwall, and I suspect the undoubted skills of Cornish miners are somewhat different from those of coal miners, for geological reasons, so it isn't appropriate in a pasty shop, anyway.

    they tin miners or sommit? Or English coal miners from elsewhere?
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Eliab wrote: »
    The point is that not that the photo is appealing, or relevant, or tasteful, or a good marketing strategy, or whatever. It's that it's not racist. Not even remotely. And once someone understands that it's not remotely racist, to continue to object to it on those grounds, as Mr Thomas did, is over-sensitive.

    Context is everything in cases like this. If you're in the United States, white men with blackened faces are going to invoke visions of minstrel shows. That's just the way it is. If the particular image is important enough to you, you can spend a lot of time explaining it to everyone who raises an objection and resign yourself that for every person who does so there are likely ten who say nothing and just conclude the worst. My previous example of the swastika is a good illustration of this.

    It also seems unproductive to classify someone as "over-sensitive". Why are you the right person to dictate what constitutes exactly the correct level of sensitivity someone should have to the kind of wrongs he faces on a frequent basis and which you likely never will?
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate
    edited February 18
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    Penny S wrote: »
    No coal in Cornwall, and I suspect the undoubted skills of Cornish miners are somewhat different from those of coal miners, for geological reasons, so it isn't appropriate in a pasty shop, anyway.

    they tin miners or sommit? Or English coal miners from elsewhere?

    Looks like coal miners from somewhere else - tin miners get filthy underground too, but not covered in coal dust (link to Daily Mail article with photos from 1890). The other give away is the mirror in the background - Bass & Co Burton Ale - originally made in Burton-on-Trent, several hundred miles to the north. There were and are different breweries in Cornwall.

    It's really inaccurate marketing and nothing to do with Cornish pasties.
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