What is black face

Blackfacing in HollywoodA dark story

At the beginning of the 19th century the phenomenon of the "blackface" appeared for the first time, in the theatrical "Minstrel Shows" in the USA. There, white actors painted black faces with shoe polish or soot, put on thick, made-up lips and patched clothes - and not only to portray blacks, but also "to caricature them, to caricature blacks as uncivilized, as lazy, as stupid, portrayed as cowardly, obsessed with sex, "reported Kerstin Zilm in an interview. Blacks also appeared with a black face at the time, but only to have the opportunity to appear in front of a white audience.

From widespread use to clear criticism

Blackfacing was very widespread in the 1930s and 1940s: from Judy Garland to Fred Astaire to the Marx Brothers and Bing Crosby, many artists appeared with their faces painted black. In the 1960s, in the course of the civil rights movement, it was then increasingly frowned upon. "However, they still disguised themselves as 'black' on Halloween and at student parties, and continued into the 21st century." This was especially common in the southern states, where the current governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, grew up - the man who admitted to having dressed up as Michael Jackson and practicing blackfacing at least once.

Is it him or is he not? Today's Governor Ralph Northam in the yearbook of his study class. (imago stock & people (Eastern Virginia Medical School))

In the meantime, people in the USA are more vigilant when it comes to such issues, reported Kerstin Zilm. Sometimes overly vigilant when, for example, the artist Katy Perry takes her designed shoes - black with red lips and blue eyes - from the range on charges of racism. Or the presenter Megyn Kelly, revoked her statement that blackface on Halloween was okay after a shit storm. However, in its predecessors, the minstrel shows, a "targeted degradation of African-Americans" actually happened, so she found the statement of comedian Roy Wood very convincing, who said that blackface was like smoking on a plane: "It was a long time ago that's okay. We now know that it hurts others, whether you mean it badly or not, it doesn't matter. You let it be. "

Dedicated US celebrities are known to denounce grievances - see #OscarsSoWhite or #MeToo. In the case of the current blackfacing discussion, however, there was silence. The biting late-night talkers Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon also held back. This is due to the fact that these two in particular have their "own experiences with blackface". They would have made fun of the comedian Chris Rock or Oprah Winfrey and "painted their faces black themselves". Anyone sitting in a glass house shouldn't throw stones - in this respect, many "held back in this discussion," said Zilm.