Black Face in the Lifestyle? Really?

blackface-goodoldfamilyracismRecently it was brought to our attention that the Portland Eagle was putting on an event featuring a Drag Performer portraying an “inarticulate black welfare mother with 19 children.” in blackface.

WTH?? Black Face??

The Eagle cancelled this event as of yesterday. So why am I still writing about this?

I’m writing because after reading a article or two about how the owners and managers did not really seem to understand the issue with this having been planned and being perplexed and a bit offended over the outcry it occurs to me that it is time for a bit of cultural understanding 101.

Our Leather/Kink/BDSM community – while putting a great deal of energy into sensitivity to gender, sexual orientation and  kinks seems to have somewhat of a blind spot when it comes to cultural and racial sensitivity.

The curse of racism in this country and the wound it has left on our collective consciousness is very fresh all things considered. While often it is said that “slavery was over 200 years ago!!” – it is important to remember that Jim Crow laws were still in effect as of the 1960’s. It is also important to remember that racial discrimination, bias and hate crimes are still present day realities.  This means that for many people of color – the negative side effects they are still on the receiving end of – not only reside in the annals of history but are also part of present day reality.  A wound can not heal while it is continuing to be inflicted.  No non-consensual slavery is not Federally sanctioned anymore. YAY!. On the other hand many People of color have the experience of an underlying disrespect and suspicion being placed on them just because of their skin color.

What does this have to do with the black face debacle? First off let’s understand the history of black-face.  Go here to read about it- it’s really fascinating and not too wordy.

Understand that black face is fundamentally about perpetrating racial stereotypes. And in that vein it goes beyond the simple wearing of  “black face”.

“Minstrel show entertainment included imitating black music and dance and speaking in a “plantation” dialect. The shows featured a variety of jokes, songs, dances and skits that were based on the ugliest stereotypes of African American slaves. From 1840 to 1890, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America.” ~

And here s where the line is crossed between funny and offensive – at least for me (BTW I’m not speaking for all African Americans here – only for myself ). The line is crossed when you are imitating what you consider to be “black behavior” that is a stereotype in the ugliest of ways.  It’s not funny.  It’s mean spirited and does not come from a place of connection but a place of “put down”. The line is crossed when you feel it is okay to use things that have NO OTHER context save humiliation, bigotry, and mockery not as part of a consensual scene but as HUMOR at my expense. I watched one of this Drag Queens video’s on Youtube. It was ugly. It was mean. It wasn’t even a little funny to me. It made me sad actually. Sad that this person – a white Gay male as I understand it – would feel that this was something to be celebrated. Sad that if I met him it would be very difficult for me to not at least wonder if he saw me like that.

And that’s the huge downside of racial insensitivity – it DIVIDES us. When you speak what you consider to be “ghetto” speak in front of me – it makes me wonder if that’s how I sound to you? And – since I know that is not how I speak – I begin to wonder if this is how you hear me. When you confuse me with another African American woman who is not even my shade of brown, my height, my weight,  nor has any of my facial features – it tells me you don’t really SEE me.  It sends the message that “you all look alike”.  These things feed into a cultural memory that is not positive.  These assumptions invalidate our being INDIVIDUALS.

So here’s a bit of guidance if you care to take it. If you care to avoid hurt feelings and want to truly connect with those of a different ethnicity  or racial designation than you:

  • Asking is usually okay – If you have a question about something cultural – ask. I’d much rather you ask than assume.
  • All black people do not sound the same, think the same, look the same. We don’t all hold the same views – and we don’t all have the same cultural sensitivities. Get to know the INDIVIDUAL you are dealing with.
  • Do not use our friendship or familiarity as a basis to let loose with expressions of stereotypes even in jest. It’s not funny.
  • If you’d like to see more diversity in your play party or munch group – consider things like music choices, locations (are you on a side of town that is noted for not being friendly to non-whites?), and how you respond when POC’s  (people of color) show up. Being met with expressions of shock isn’t welcoming.
  • All Black women aren’t Dominant or angry. PLEASE believe this. Thank you.
  • All Black men aren’t given to Violence or Irresponsibility.
  • The fact that professional comedians, comics and the like use race and racial stereotypes to make millions of dollars is irrelevant and a poor excuse for your attempts at humor at my expense. You arent a professional comedian and the fact that Im standing in front of you shouldnt be considered synonymous with buying a ticket.

No matter how proficient we have collectively become at ignoring the massive elephant of racism in the middle of our collective living room, it trumpets rather loudly and often it seems. We are shocked and hurt….and then go back to our regularly scheduled broadcasts, ‘safe’ in the knowledge that as long as we studiously maintain the appearance of ignorance and keep looking the other way we can avoid the discomfort of the tough discussion. Eventually we must come to grips with the fact that it is our collective love of being Good Men and Women doing Nothing that continues to allow racist attitudes and actions to flourish and grow. It takes courage – to ask questions, to have a real dialogue.  It takes courage – to speak up, to ‘rock’ the proverbial boat and to risk being misunderstood. The time of cultural icons, pioneers with names like King, Kennedy and Parks has passed – it is now the time for you and I to do what we can to fix it, to make things a little better where WE live and in the relationships that matter to US.  Nothing else will do.

~Master Obsidian and slave namaste
You can read Mollena’s thoughts and her awesome video on this same situation here

9 Replies to “Black Face in the Lifestyle? Really?”

  1. Thank you, Namaste, for your gracious and thoughtful insights.

    It pains me that we are at a point where we still have to explain these things to people but my prayer is that, at least in the heart of one person, the light of truth will banish the cloud of ignorance.

  2. Was it racial insensitivity or just plain stupidity? Granted, people who are racists are always stupid but people who do stupid things without thinking arent always racists.

    1. Greetings! Thank you for asking- In my opinion this was racial insensitivity simply because Shirley Q’s performance is BASED in race. He could represent an uneducated woman of ANY race – why black? Why the BlackFace? I agree totally that all stupidity is not racist. However when such ignorance is based in an intrinsic belief of “those people are like X” then yes- it’s racist in my estimation. Now – what can we do about it? We can admit that such bias and judgement does lie within us (when it is found out), own the prejudicial behavior (when it shows up)and learn how to relinquish it so that we can actualize being the amazing Good People we really are – or we can ignore it and continue to live behind the mask of “goodness” while being full of the bitter gall of racist ideology and world view. We get to Choose.

  3. Thank you for posting and thank you for continuing to do work when asked the question above. Your thoughtful, public commentary is valued and will not be forgotten.

    Lady !Kona
    NubianImp Projects
    Vancouver, BC Canada

  4. Well said! It’s painful to realize that we as a nation, and we as a subculture,
    still have to wrestle with this kind of ignorance and behavior. But so long as we do wrestle, we will eventually break it down. One person at a time if need be. Thank you for this post.

  5. Thank you for this post. I have some awareness of the eye-rolling exhaustion that one can feel at having to do “101” YET AGAIN. You & Master Obsidian are very gracious.
    I try to point out to people that since there were people born into slavery who were alive well into my childhood, it was NOT so very long ago, & its damage continues to this day. As long as we “other” each other we will never be whole.

  6. Thank you for this article, this experience must be very painful because of the break of trust and the ugly expression of African American women portrayed in the cabaret act.

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