Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hattiesburg and L' Affaire Huxtable

White people used to be entertained by white men in black face spinning tambourines and wearing tights. Really. kids. A group of Phi Mu girls had the idea to dress as the Huxtable family at an 80's Swap at USM.
In blackface.
Have they lost their flibbinfloobiflobbity minds?
Which provides fuel to the fire concerning our state's racial relations. Gawker called the incident "the most predictable incident of the year".Nice.

Well, at least it wasn't Ole Miss. This time.

From the Hattiesburg American article:“'Though it is clear that these women had no ill intent, it was also clear that they had little cultural awareness or competency, and did not understand the historical implication of costuming in blackface,' said Dean of Students Dr. Eddie Holloway."

I see this as a gross socially awkward move on the girls' part and maybe even stupid. Seems the USM administration is taking some good measures to ensure some understanding of why blackface can be seen as socially wrong based on the history of minstrel shows and other gross stereotypes perpetuated concerning Black people.

However, I am also reminded of another person,with ties to Hattiesburg, who does a regular routine in blackface without any incident. 

Saturday Night Live's Obama imitation by Fred Armisen
I am really not interested in defending a sorority swap or SNL. However, it does seem there's a double standard when it comes to race. Granted, when a Black actor portrays a "White" character, he rarely employs "whiteface". Unless it's for total comedic effect such as in "White Chicks". If you call that comedy.
White Chicks on TBS, Comedy Central and WGN...all the time.
I'm not talking about the "double-standard" of what Blacks or Whites can do that the other can't. Plenty of those out there but I'm more interested in the question of what some people can say is legitimate racism and the same people decide the almost same act is "imitation" or "tribute". It's murky, for sure. And perhaps generational. And that's where I can see the girls point of view while supporting the tactics of the USM administration.
White People, please do not imitate Black characters from the 80's. Stick to the Ricky Schroeder costume!
(This, I keed you not, is Andre Agassi from this past Halloween. Foo)
The girls, in their late teens or early 20s, understand race differently, or I believe they do. More Blacks are represented in the media than in the past. Integration isn't a huge battle in the state or nation. Interracial relationships are almost commonplace in most areas of the state so they may not even see what is wrong with portraying a Black family. Even some Black young people don't see the same hurt as those from the civil rights era do. So, in that case, I find some understanding for their point of view. And even if it's a case of "haha..we're white girls being black people", the ironic sensibilities of youth even has some tolerance for that.
Black faced?
However, to take the other side of the issue, there is still a lot to be said in understanding the historical context of blackface and other things that were meant to be hurtful. By "hurtful", I include the concept of ignoring an entire race of people wholesale. It wasn't just the idea that it was "getting at" Black people, it was one more indication that they did not truly exist as people. So even in jest, there still are vestiges of disrespect and though it may be funny, it's not needed. Or, as it seems, wanted.