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Sunday, May 4, 2008

What do you think about blackface?

I was hanging out with a group of friends last week. We were rehearsing a one act play by J.I. Rodale titled: Streets of Confusion.

It's about urban renewal(in case you cared).

We are scheduled to perform at The 2nd Annual Bagg's Square Art Festival. I have been involved from its inception.

Part of the mission is to show the diversity of Utica and provide a platform for artists of every medium to show their work.

There will be music, food, film , poetry, and one act plays throughout the day. There will be booths were local artists wil be selling handmade jewelry and an assortment of offerings. So , naturally I will flex my acting acting chops by participating in several of the performances.

We are an assortment of individuals from totally different backgrounds assembled to make this aspect of the event sucessful.

We each bring something different to the table.

I have been able to point an early spotlight on the event by writing several articles about it. I have also went into the community to get some diversity in the homegenous event. The planners are enthusiastic about some additional culture.

Breakthrough Central New York have managed to watch these written ideas come to fruition. The last hurdle is the inclusiveness, to embrace and include all segments of Utica.

The upshot?

They admit... "we need help"

The attitude is there. That is what I mean when I say"there really is harmony", it just has to be realized. And conflict, wether racial in origin or not, has to be a point of connection not separation.

There are a great many people who want that.

Want to get along.

There are people who are tired of hating and do not even know why they hate.

Sometimes brutal honesty is a tonic, we need to know what is up sometimes.

During our rehearsal one of my associates asked "Dave what do you think about blackface"?

All eyes on me.

Without any hesitation I said "In a historical context it is sad and sickening." I thought about it a little more and continued without pausing "I need to understand how many actual performances were literally ripped of. How many brilliant black performers had their material stolen from some small backwater stage and then had to sit through the mainstream mockery of these blackfaced cretins" Then I said "Think about all the black people who had to wear it as well, a little piece of their sould dying everytime they put it on, think about the rare black headliner of the show having to enter the theatre through the back door. If you are comfortable after that so be it".

I almost said think about Paul Robeson but I knew it was futile.

Then I thought of Flava Flav
and it is hard to blame people who don't know history for doing or saying something that may seem totally innappropriate with someone like him on the airwaves, drawing big audiences.

Can anyone say Mantan?

"O.K Dave.... so, what do you think guys"

I refused to be angry, I am sure there are bad events in his/their cultural history that I am just as indifferent about . It is not that I don't care, it just does not resonate emotionally. So I can understand other eurocentric ethnicities not caring too much about racism and the biased construct we live under today.

After all, they treat each other pretty bad too.

Inclusiveness conversations and questions like "do you mind blackface" make all the difference.

With a group consensus it probably won't happen, if it does, I will counter with white face,
walk around like something is in my butt and dance without rythm(Its a stereotype).

Is that funny?


Anonymous said...

Dave, you raise a difficult issue with respect to racial stereotypes because even the most well-meaning of questions can cross the line? I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like the person who asked the question had no idea about the racist connotations of the black face persona on stage and in film. Regardless if the question was born of naiveté or meant to yank your chain, your response was right on. Tell them what you know, give them perspective and stand firm on the point that even in the most racially inclusive of groups, there are lines should not be crossed.

David B. Dancy said...

Word up!!! Just think twenty years ago they might not even ask my opinion.
I can't fathom why they would want to do it in the first place. It just seems so tacky and uncomfortable.
Here to enlightenment

Len Hart said...

David, just a quick note to say --keep up the great work. Also --thanks for kindly linking to "The Existentialist Cowboy". I've added a link back to you from my blogroll. I am proud that so many bloggers have come together to change things in this country. It's not a matter of whether we can make a difference --we HAVE to make a difference and, by God, we will. Again --my humble thanks and as the French would say: Bonne Chance!

Aymswill said...


1) How'd that just pop up in coversation "Yeah I mean man you come off stage left and all you know...but umm Dave how you feel about BlackFace?"


Ohkay 2) Good response. I've YouTubed BlackFace performances and I'm like one, looking at it the way you do (your initial response) and then I further question WHY is this on YouTube?

There are some boundaries that are there to see if someone will cross them, then there are boundaries that are used to keep people out. Then there's just some boundaries that you don't cross, for neither reason, they're just not meant to be crossed.

Justin Burton said...

I'm with you, David, in wondering what the point would've been in the first place. I can't unfurrow my brow on that one.

My minstrelsy history is a bit spotty, and there are so many layers to the practice that it can be nearly unwieldy, but it seems that many Black performers in Black face have been flipping it in ways that (mostly White, certainly racist) audiences didn't understand. One can't paint with a broad brush here, but, as with every other racist scenario over the last 300+ years, Black men and women have figured out how to play with the signifiers and exert control over that which was originally nothing but derogatory. Maybe a good modern example is David Banner, who at first glance is a stereotypical misogynist, violent rapper but who at a closer glance is playing the role of the Trickster and flipping the stereotypes.

Of course, however much we can revel in the sort of resiliency and creativity that constantly undermine racism, the notion of an actual blackface performance conducted by people with no apparent historical perspective (I'm assuming proper perspective would mean that the idea would never occur to anyone) deserves the response you gave: 'Here's some info. Does that really seem like such a good idea?'

Oh, and the comment about whiteface reminded me that the cakewalk, a mainstay of early minstrel shows that featured a good deal of strutting and posturing, is apparently derived from competitions among slaves who were imitating the people who presumed to own them. So, White people were putting on blackface to make fun of Black people by mimicking their culture, part of which was really mimicking White people. How great is that?

David B. Dancy said...

Justin- The cakewalk huh? That just goes to show the layers of understanding that need to be peeled. I am sure somewhere in my DNA there was a cakewalker. But lets think for a minute. What if Flave Flav decided to drop his over the top persona and adopt a more serene, realistic, caricature-became a self help guru. Ahhh forget it.

Aymswill- There are just some boundaries you do not cross for any reason.
That is a good mantra. I am sticking to that -do unto others unless you are asuicidal. That works too. I just know there are anukber of thingsi the world that are clearly ofensive and i do not need consultation to identify them . that is exactly why i do not use derogatory terms to identify anyone. even if they are not i the room. That is just it i have some respect for people's feelings. Even people i do not know.

Len- I stumbled across your blog and i knew this is something I need to be a part of.BTW The Murrow post changed my freelance life.
Can you feel the shift? The soft rumble of a hundred million whispers?
Good Night and Good Luck

no_slappz said...

dbd, once again, you respond to a question by jumping into your time machine and place your answer in the past.

You said:

"Without any hesitation I said "In a historical context it is sad and sickening.""

The preceding is undoubtedly an accurate expression of your feelings. But then you go off into that imaginary black alternate reality when you state:

"I need to understand how many actual performances were literally ripped of. How many brilliant black performers had their material stolen from some small backwater stage and then had to sit through the mainstream mockery of these blackfaced cretins..."

You say "you need to understand..."

Understand what? You said "brilliant black performers had their material stolen..."

Performers don't have rights to the material they perform -- unless they have a contract stating those rights. TV actors have some rights to revenue from re-runs. Movie actors don't. But the rights of performers today are driven mainly by recording technology that did not exist in earlier eras of show business. Nevertheless, you seem to believe material created by writers belongs to the performers rather than acknowledging that recordings, song lyrics, books, plays and movies are all examples of property that may be bought and sold by legal owners.

You said:

"Then I said "Think about all the black people who had to wear it as well, a little piece of their sould dying everytime they put it on, think about the rare black headliner of the show having to enter the theatre through the back door. If you are comfortable after that so be it"."

If show business has been anything, it has been a time when people humiliated themselves in front of crowds as they sought public approval. Plenty of failed performers have gotten no further than wearing clownish costumes while performing in backwater performances that are staged every day in this country, and around the world.

A couple of years ago Martin Lawrence and another black actor took the lead roles in "White Chicks", in which, as you might not know, they were paid to dress up in white-face and women's clothes to entertain viewers. I did not see the movie.

Eddie Murphy has added to his career by appearing as white characters in some of his movies.

In other words, movie-makers will try anything if it might earn a buck. No outrage followed the White Chicks movie, as far as I know, thought it's possible reviewers panned it. But there were no outcries from white racial-sensitivity groups complaining and claiming that two black male actors humiliated white women with their trans-gender, trans-racial performances.

What would you call the Cosby Show?

David B. Dancy said...

Slappy do I excite you.

Alecto said...

David - I'm with aymswill on the boundaries. As a very pale white person I suspect I'd just about choke on my tongue if I heard it, never mind being able to say it.

David B. Dancy said...

Oh yeah, slappy martin lawrence was not in white chicks...i am convinced you suffer from acute mental illness...diagnosis unknown.

i only read the first sentence of each paragraph of your response i realize you simply want to be heard. you take a few phrases out of the Bell Curve and you think that ricknology will get you somewhere. we (black folks) are so jaded. your biased statistics are exactly what make you think America is still on top. Sorry to tell you white andblack amerias are mired in mediocrity. velieve me the average white guy is just as dumb as the average black one. if i knew you i would tell you how i know that fact. i have beat the best and they all said thank you after i won.
why do you claim to think for me. You do not know anything about me with exception of what i choose to print. the fact that i do not hide behind an avatar proves where i stand as a man in this world.
in other words as long as you make personal attacks you will not be posted unless of course you reveal yourself that way i can look you in the eye.
Are you a strong white man or a mouse?Or just prejudiced?
I am thinking prejudiced mouse for sure.

Jen said...

Your postings go way in depth dude; and they make me have to look up things like "urban renewal." Yeah me developmentally challenged. And now my head hurts.

Part of your comic strip got cut off. But the part I read was funny. So is Flava Flav for that matter. I can't believe he dumped "Thing 2." I think that plays to your point.

Speaking of plays, you act?

Jen said...

Sorry for calling you dude BTW. I call everyone that. Even my mom.