Blackface in some historical perspective

5 Feb

Last Friday, it was revealed that Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, had featured, on his medical-school yearbook page, a photograph of a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood. Northam immediately apologized for appearing in the photo, but he then changed his story and said that neither person in the photograph was him; he did, however, say that he had once put shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume. By the end of the weekend, many members of the Virginia and national Democratic parties had called for Northam’s resignation.

To discuss the subject of blackface and its historical role in American politics, culture, and racism, I spoke by phone with Eric Lott, who teaches American studies at the cuny Graduate Center and is the author of “Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy & the American Working Class.” An edited and condensed version of our conversation is below.

You made read the New Yorker interview with historian Lott here. And, to read the Native News Online op-ed entitled Why is Blackface Racist but Playing Indian is Not? click here.

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