Public figures should be punished for using blackface

Photo courtesy of William H. West Minstrel Show, Wikipedia

The troublesome tradition of blackface has made its way back into the public spotlight, as certain politicians, celebrities and brands have been accused of wearing blackface or creating products inspired by the practice.

Even though blackface has been denounced repeatedly in the years since its rise to popularity and eventually infamy in early 19th century America, many people still seem to think it is acceptable.

There was Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, who was believed to be pictured in a photo in his medical school yearbook where one man was in blackface and the other was in Ku Klux Klan robes. The photo resurfaced earlier this month. Although he denied being in the photo, it still exists and was on his yearbook page.

Katy Perry was accused of using blackface imagery in her shoe line earlier this year. The line produced pairs of shoes that resembled blackface, with a black finish featuring bright blue eyes and red lips, and contrasting pairs that looked like a white person’s face.

Designer brands have also come under fire for blackface. Gucci was recently in the news for its black balaclava sweater, as the sweater featured a mouth slit that had thick red outline. Prada also produced figurines that suggested racist imagery: They look like monkeys with big red lips.

Backlash and outrage has followed each new example of blackface. However, blackface keeps happening, and this racist behavior goes unnoticed until it is online, which highlights a deeper problem in America.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, an average of 34 percent of all adults think blackface is always or sometimes acceptable as part of a Halloween costume. Further, 39 percent of white people think it is always or sometimes acceptable, versus a 19 percent of black people.

The majority of this acceptance comes from adults that are over 30 years old, as younger adults are less likely to accept using blackface in any context.

As it stands, blackface is unacceptable to use in society. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a Halloween costume or not, because it is a racist representation of black people that is offensive and should be left in the past.  

Over and over, there has been fallout from American officials, brands and celebrities making a mockery of the struggles that black people have endured, and yet it subsists.

The Pew Research Center poll also provides the statistic that an average of 58 percent of adults think it is always or sometimes acceptable to wear another culture’s traditional dress as a costume. A majority of this comes from the 66 percent of white adults who do not see a problem with this viewpoint.

Americans should be doing a better job of educating others about the history of blackface and its societal implications. Otherwise, the trend will continue. It ultimately must be removed from society.

There cannot be true equity or equality until there is an end to racist representations of people’s cultures.

Until punishments become severe, the news will keep seeing people excuse blackface because there are limited repercussions and no one to educate them on the matter.