Learning With: ‘Beyond College Campuses and Public Scandals, a Racist Tradition Lingers’

Learning With: ‘Beyond College Campuses and Public Scandals, a Racist Tradition Lingers’

5. What are some ways that African-American students have responded to incidents of blackface on college campuses? Which do you believe have been particularly effective?

6. According to the article, how have some white people defended their use of blackface? Do you believe that the use of blackface by white people can ever be “totally innocent” or be seen as “a tribute to the person being imitated?”

7. The article concludes:

Eric Lott, an expert on blackface minstrelsy and a cultural historian at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who is white, called the practice “indefensible,” given its roots in dehumanizing attitudes “rooted in the traffic in black bodies and slavery.”

And yet, despite the pain and the punishment, some white people seem inescapably drawn to it. “It’s just one of the ways, theatrically and in everyday life, that white Americans appear to handle their relationship to the color line,” Dr. Lott said. “And I’m not sure how you deal with that.”

What does Mr. Lott mean by his statement? Do you agree?

Finally, tell us more about what you think:

— What is your reaction to the article? What did you learn about the role of blackface in American life? Return to the surveys of American attitudes in the beginning of this piece; how do your experiences and attitudes compare to those of other Americans?

— How big a problem is blackface in America? What does the continued use of blackface tell us about the United States?

— Do you think Mr. Northam and the other Virginia politicians who have admitted to dressing in blackface in their pasts should resign from political office? Why or why not?

— What should be done to address the continuing use of blackface — particularly on campuses and universities? Should blackface be explicitly banned at all schools?

— In his Opinion piece, “Blackface Is the Tip of the Iceberg,” Jamelle Bouie writes:

… any collective reckoning with racism that comes out of this moment must go beyond the personal and offensive to the unequal depths. We should care about racist imagery, but we should care even more about our still-segregated society.

Do you agree? What might a “collective reckoning” that goes beyond caring about racist imagery look like in American society?

Related Resources

Why Won’t Blackface Go Away? It’s Part of America’s Troubled Cultural Legacy