A lot of people embrace this time to dress up for Halloween, Sinterklass, and Christmas.
A dark aspect of this is Blackface.
blackface is when a non-black person darkens their skin with charcoal, shoe polish, and exaggerate their features.
The exact date of origination is unknown, however, it became popular in America in the early 19th century.
Thomas Dartmouth Rice was an actor from New York who was nicknamed the “Father of Minstrelsy.” In 1830, he travelled to the deep south of America, where he developed a black stage character called “Jim Crow”.
White performers in blackface played characters that perpetuated a range of negative stereotypes of Black people; lazy, ignorant, stupid, hypersexual, criminal, or cowardly.
From mid-November to the first week of December, The Netherlands celebrate Sinterklaas.
This is a tradition that started in the Middle Ages, where farmers had a local prankster dress up as Sinterklass (St. Nicholas) giving sweets to poor children.
Sinterklass’s assistant (or sidekick) was Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature of a Moor, who arrived around the middle of the 19th Century.
A white person would paint their face black, wear red lipstick, gold hoop earrings, and act clownish beside Sinterklass.
Throughout the ages, they used Zwarte Piet on and off.
Some Dutch citizens have been campaigning to stop the tradition of citizens wearing blackface. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte “called the tradition racist”.
It feels like a welcomed change of opinion, as he admitted in 2014 to dressing up in blackface for Sinterklass and didn’t see it as a problem.
Since writing this article Zwarte Piet will NOT be invited to schools to take part in the celebrations this year.
Unfortunately, England embraced blackface too. In the late 19th century minstrels were incredibly popular. G H Elliott (George Henry Elliot) was a British entertainer who painted himself in blackface.
George moved to the United States as a child, and first performed in blackface at age nine with his family. They were called the Primrose West Minstrels.
During the summer of 2020, his graveyard was covered as it referred to his stage name “a chocolate-covered c**n”.
Another star that emerged was a music hall performer called George Chirgwin.
George’s introduction to blackface was also as a child.
A show on the BBC named “The Black and White Minstrel Show” ran from 1958 to 1978. This was a popular show on mainstream TV, getting audiences up to 16 million at its peak in the ’60s.
It was billed as a “family entertainment show”. White musicians would don suits and blacken their faces and sing show tunes.
At the start of his career, popular UK comedian Lenny Henry was a regular fixture in this show. which he refers to as “a grotesque parody of black people”.
The presence of black performers on the Black and White Minstrel Show was less a measure of progress than a sign of just how restricted the opportunities were for regular employment.
Lenny Henry revealed that appearing in the controversial show was a “double-edged sword” despite it helping him to hone his craft as a comedian and support his family.
His breakthrough into the world of comedy meant “everybody’s shoulders could relax” due to there being less of a financial burden and they “weren’t living on the breadline anymore”.
The star said: “I had to own that and not be ashamed of that because it was a very, very, very positive thing no matter how I was doing it.
“I was able to help my family so I have to own that and not be ashamed of it. It was a good thing, not a terrible thing.”
Lenny explained that his manager thought performing with The Black and White Minstrel Show was a good move as it would allow him to “learn the trade”.
He admitted that it took years of therapy and reflection to forgive himself for being a part of the performance group.
It was finally shelved in 1978 when BBC Controller, Bill Cotton stated that the “racist implication” of its minstrelsy was now obvious to all. “We need to take black people’s feelings into consideration”.
During the protests of George Floyd, the world began to wake up and understand the different levels of racism.
Popular television hosts – Ant and Dec apologised for wearing blackface on their weekly show “Saturday Night Takeaway”.
Leigh Francis who dressed up as Trisha Goddard, Craig David, and Mel B on his show “Bo Selecta” posted an emotional video apologising for the hurt that he caused whilst wearing blackface.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams who are the creators of Little Britain apologised for blackfacing characters and had the show removed from all streaming devices.
On the 30th of November 2020, a Russian satirical tv-show broadcast a “comedy sketch” where the host was supposed to be interviewing Obama.
Obama was a Russian woman wearing blackface, chains, and a red scarf.
Unfortunately, after the backlash, the creator doubled down and defended the sketch by saying that “As someone who is part of an ethnic minority in Russia, Tigran regularly makes fun, on the air, of his large ‘ethnic’ nose and his belonging to a ‘black’ community (look it up if you don’t know which ethnicities are referred to as ‘black’ in Russia).
The failure of The Times to understand the nuances of various ethnic tensions in different countries and its attempts to transfer the specific legacy traumas of the Anglo-Saxon world onto the world ……where such injustices had never come to pass are the most obvious trademarks of the multi-century racist imperialism.
The racism had simply changed colors.”
Maybe 2021, is the year where we can say blackface is a thing of the past?
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