Contemporary Blackface

In the past few months, incidents of blackface have become a hot topic in the media. Just last week, former Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned after photos of him in blackface dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim from Halloween 2005 began circulating. Ertel was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, who, when running for the gubernatorial position, stated that voters shouldn’t “monkey this up” by supporting his black opponent, Andrew Gillum. Another example of this kind of overt racism is Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, who is being pushed by his constituents to resign for his section in the 1984 yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School. It contains a picture of a man in blackface standing next to a man dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member. In another instance, NBC television host Megyn Kelly drew controversy last Fall after defending blackface Halloween costumes. She justifies the practice by comparing it to the people who place axes in their heads, suggesting that they are equally jarring.

In addition to their appalling behavior, the public figures in question attempted to defend themselves. Just one day after publicly apologizing for his actions, Northam reported that he was not in fact the man standing in the picture next to the Ku Klux Klan individual. Kelly sought to reform her initial statement, maintaining that if someone were to dress as Diana Ross and present blackface, she would view that act as a way of “honoring and respecting” Ross’s beauty. Even more disconcerting is the fact that the only times we have heard these public figures apologize for their decisions of the past were to save their reputations or careers. Ertel— who, despite his resignation, still faces a large mass of offended and enraged citizens— claims he is “a better man than [he] was 14 years ago.” Governor Northam asserts that his poor ethical conduct is not reflective of who he is today or what he stands for.

Notice the trend. Not only were the apologies meant to save face, they also attempted to affirm that the person at fault has since grown from the situation. Individuals on national platforms must recognize the weight of their actions. We can no longer readily accept any and every meek apology that is recited to us day after day. These figures who have gained massive followings must be held accountable for their actions, and we should not be so quick to forgive them.

Leave a Reply