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Blackface Incident at Prairie View Teachable Moment

by Todd A. Smith

 

A Teachable Moment


Pop star Beyoncé paid homage to the Black Panther Party at the Super Bowl and a conversation ensued.


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem and a conversation has ensued.


A White female student at Prairie View A&M University, a HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in Prairie View, Texas, covered her face with black tape that resembled blackface makeup to “fit in” and the same conversation should occur as a result.


The White student, who has been identified as Brooke Merino, posted a selfie on Snapchat in blackface and a Prairie View t-shirt stating, “When you just tryna (sic) fit in at your hbcu.”


Merino has since left the Prairie View A&M University campus and is at home with her parents in California according to KTRK, Houston’s ABC affiliate. 


While many have been outraged at the racial insensitivity shown in the blackface selfie, others have said it is not a time to harass her for her mistake, but to educate her on the history of blackface.


The correct way to handle this unfortunate situation is definitely education.


What the African-American community has to understand is that when racially insensitive events happen, some White Americans fall into two camps.


The first camp is the racist, and the only way to change them is to pray that God changes their heart.


The second camp is the group that does not know the daily struggles with inequality that African-Americans endure and/or do not know the true history of the African-American struggle so their reaction to certain situations reflect their lack of knowledge.


When lack of knowledge is the reason behind awkward racial incidents, it is up to the African-American community to educate those in the White community and not just assume their lack of knowledge makes them a racist.


When Beyoncé caused a firestorm with her salute to the Black Panther Party, an opinion column in this very publication educated many White readers who thought that the Black Panthers were simply just a hate group and the Black equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan.


Months later, when many persecuted Kaepernick, it was an article in RegalMag.com and other publications that exposed the full lyrics of the National Anthem, which are very pro-slavery.


Like the fact that many African-Americans might not know much about Soviet history, the African-American community cannot expect other ethnic groups to be experts on Black history if they are not experts on the history of others.


Educating someone who is uniformed might began to break down those walls called racism, especially if the guilty party spreads their knowledge to their peers.


According to “The African American Encyclopedia,” blackface is “theatrical makeup used by White, and later by Black, actors to allow them to impersonate African Americans.  Before the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, it was impossible for African Americans to appear and perform on formal stages in the United States.


“Theatrical roles of Black characters were played by Whites.  To be able to play Black roles convincingly and realistically, White actors had to blacken their faces with burnt cork so as to appear Black in complexion.”


Therefore, not only was the use of blackface discriminatory against African-American performers, the White actors also impersonated African-Americans in a very demeaning and stereotypical way, often making fun of African-American culture.


Hopefully, if Merino learns what blackface represents she will not repeat the mistakes of those in the past.


Furthermore, if Merino learns this history, hopefully she will learn of the hurt and pain that it causes her former African-American classmates, professors and administrators.


And learning from the mistakes of slavery and Jim Crow and not repeating the racism of the past should be the goal of every sane American, Black, White or otherwise.

This article was published on Friday 07 October, 2016.
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