Are Blackface and Cultural Appropriation Always Racist?

February 25, 2019

The last few weeks have been tumultuous times in America with everyone looking into his past, especially his college yearbook, to be sure he did not transgress present day scruples regarding what is considered racism. It started with the churning of the Democrat Party in Virginia when Governor Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring became persona non grata at the same time because of their perceived racism.

Leading Democrats are very disturbed about blackface which they perceive as always the ridicule of Blacks, but they have no concern that Fundamentalist Christians were ridiculed for their sincerely held beliefs by the “church lady” on Saturday Night Live from 1986 to 2016. Or how about Preacher which “is a supernatural, twisted and darkly comedic drama that follows a West Texas preacher, Jesse Custer, his bada** ex-girlfriend, Tulip and an Irish vagabond named Cassidy.” I have not heard a word of criticism about this show’s distortion of the ministry. 

Why are Democrats who are so indignant about whites in blackface unconcerned for the ridicule of Catholics by men dressed as nuns during “gay” rights parades? I don’t agree with the Catholic nuns’ theology but many of them are very caring, dedicated people who help sick people in hospitals and teach children in their schools.

But then, everyone knows Christians are fair game; and, on the other hand, no one would even think of doing a parody or critical analysis of Muslims. The Racial Gestapo is not interested in fair and equal treatment.

Why did these critics of blackface not condemn the All in the Family television show about Archie Bunker, a hard-working union man who was ridiculed for his Conservative (highly exaggerated) views? It was thought that Archie had extremist views while his daughter and son-in-law advocated for every left-wing cause that came down the pike. Archie was portrayed as a honky jerk while his daughter and son-in-law were cast as heroic, committed people. That kind of ridicule and double standard is appalling yet is accepted, even applauded by non-thinking leftists.

When a white person puts on blackface, is he or she always guilty of cultural appropriation? Cultural appropriation carries the implication of fraud or seizure and carries the thought of taking something from someone, or of diminishing a supply such as when a kid steals a piece of fruit. Most critics would say it is wrong if a white man in blackface takes advantage of the black culture to further his own cause—reputation, income, etc., at the expense of another culture especially if the intent is to be critical.

Many people say blackface is acceptable if it does not ridicule Blacks. Others violently disagree.

Cultural appropriation can include using other groups’ cultural and religious traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and music. An example is when a non-Indian wears a headdress or lives in a wigwam, or when a white person wears dreadlocks. But could that be extended to where a white person is viewed as offensively insensitive to Blacks if he eats okra or chitlins?  Can a reasonable case be made for cultural appropriation?

When I hunted with bow and arrows, was I racially insensitive and demeaning to Native Americans or did I simply want to use a more challenging method to hunt deer and bear? And is it anyone’s business if I’m so stupid to go after a bear with two sticks and a string?

Many Indians are offended by the use of Indian names for athletic teams such as the “Redskins,” “Braves,” “Blackhawks,” and “Seminoles.” However, the Seminole tribe in Florida voted for Florida State University to keep the name Seminoles. They considered it an honor. Other Seminoles in Oklahoma disagree.

Was I guilty when I purchased a Peruvian work shirt and Mexican sombrero to use while doing my yard and garden work? Who gave the Mexicans exclusive use of the wide-brimmed hat? The Mexicans had adopted an earlier hat worn by the Spanish colonials during the 1700s, so it seems that everyone appropriates from everyone else. Yet some U.S. college presidents prohibited non-Mexican students from wearing a sombrero for fear it might offend Mexican students. Well, too bad; they’ll get over it. It may give them heartburn and even scar their ids and disturb their egos, but they will survive.

Should a Christian be offended when a non-Christian or pagan wears a cross since obviously, it means nothing to him or her? Since the ancient Hebrews used male circumcision as their distinctive rite, is it cultural appropriation and therefore wrong for any non-Hebrew to have a son circumcised? Was it wrong for some WW II soldiers to wear a Mohawk haircut to intimidate enemy soldiers?

Cultural appropriation is a misnomer since it suggests that something has been taken but no matter how many people take something from a culture, it is never diminished in the least. This is not appropriation but more like appreciation. I like something in the Japanese culture and take it for my own use and satisfaction. However, I have diminished nothing from the Japanese. I have honored and respected them.

How can I steal what does not belong to anyone? No group owns the music, food, clothes, practices, etc., that make up a culture and it is none of their business if I choose to use for myself what I like. Again, this is appreciation. Besides, I thought imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Padma Lakshmi's hairstyle selection for a recent episode of Top Chef isn’t winning rave reviews. She had her hair done in cornrows and has received grief from many Blacks. Whites don’t have a history of cornrows. But then, why was Eddie Murphy not guilty of cultural appropriation when he did a skit in whiteface? If not, why not? Also, why did Murphy, who says he is not “gay” and has at least ten children, get a pass when he played a homosexual in a movie? Wasn’t he appropriating another culture?

Is it wrong for a black to sing an Italian opera or to act in a Shakespearian play? The Metropolitan Opera has been using Whites (in dark makeup) cast as Blacks for over a hundred years. Until now; the Fanatics Against Blackface (FAB) have changed that tradition.

I suggest that these critical Blacks get over their super-sensitive nature and realize that they don’t own their culture, and if a white man wants to adopt some of it for his own life, that is called freedom. Furthermore, get a life, chill out, settle down, and don’t always look for ways to force your dubious, divisive, and dumb opinions on others. Leave the Virginia politicians (and others) alone who were careless, crass, and crude in their youth. Judge them on their work and life as adults.

While defending Northam’s right to not be judged for a college stunt, I have noticed that Northam and other Democrats are not concerned about killing innocent babies - unless the killer does his dastardly work in blackface.

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Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives; ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis, wrote columns for USA Today for eight years; authored 15 books, which can be purchased below, and hundreds of columns and articles for Internet and print media publications; defended his beliefs on hundreds of talk shows.

Don's newest book "Muslim Invasion" is highly recommended.

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