Was it Blackface Week or something?

On last week’s “Weeds” episode:


On this week’s “Mad Men” episode:

“Weeds” has always been highly problematic when it comes to race.  If there’s a minority in a scene, chances are a joke/slur/stereotype is soon to follow.  I’m working on an article about that, so more on that later.

As for “Mad Men,” Multiculticlassics had this to say:

[T]he show’s creator is simply unable or unwilling to reveal the true faces of Whites, opting to go with a cartoonish Blackface scenario that appears wildly outdated. Roger Sterling is so bizarre that White audiences will barely take offense. Weiner hasn’t hesitated to allow the Mad Men cast to display anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia. Why won’t he let the characters show the true racism of the period?


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7 Responses to Was it Blackface Week or something?

  1. prof susurro says:

    I think overt racist images is becoming increasingly acceptable in media from Klan images to black face, things we thought we’d all agreed were not ok are on a comeback in shows aimed at liberal hipsters who think they are post-racial. I argued that the blackface thing would be everywhere once Downey Jr. got away with it and everyone said I was “overreacting” . . . well look at what is happening right now.

    (This is also what I meant when I said to you on twitter that excusing racism or racist imagery by the left in order to claim ppl who otherwise did powerful things perpetuates the existence of racism on the left. Better to discuss how ppl are capable of being both strong advocates for “women” and/or ethnic minorities AND willing to gain power thru racism than to excuse the racism in order to privilege women and ethnic minority challenges. If we did the latter we could start to talk about & dismantle the investment in certain oppressions instead of getting bogged down in “good person” syndrome.)

    I look forward to seeing what you right about weeds. I’ve always been concerned abt both the black and Latino characters I’ve seen on the ads for that show. (I don’t watch it.)

  2. Todd Gwynn says:

    It’s always blackface week in my world. But the was he Best Blackface Week Ever!

  3. Todd Gwynn says:

    @prof susurro

    It didn’t start with Robert Downey, Jr. I’ve been tracking the increase since 2003. This is all a result of Spike Lee making a movie called Bamboozled. I see Tropic Thunder, and RDJ’s nomination as a fulfillment of the process.

  4. prof susurro says:

    Todd You’re right. It didn’t start w/Robert Downey Jr. or 2003. Minstrelsy was considered an official performance form from the 1830s forward but had been performed by individuals or certain local communities even earlier. My point: I wrote a piece on Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in Tropic Thunder and the response to it as the establishing moment in which minstrelsy had been effective claimed by the left as “amusing” “harmless” and excusable b/c of liberal politics and supposed embedded critique that ran counter to marketing schemes clearly banking on laughter at black face (as opposed to critique of it). I also mapped out how many of the people involved in that project had been testing the water with black face (or passing for Latino) in other films prior, culminating in this performance. In other words, the success of Tropic Thunder, the willingness of the left to excuse the performance prior and to question both differently-abled and poc advocates rights to object to mainstreaming of oppressive images prior to even seeing the film, and the almost Oscar nod to Downey Jr. paved the way for more overt use of blackface in Hollywood. Moreover that response by N. American audience would make it possible for people less adept at actual social critique to enter the fray, ultimately moving us farther and farther away from any redemptive critique and closer and closer to offense. I think these recent forays into mainstream black face that Feminist Texican is documenting here is proof of the thesis so many liberal feminist blogs said was “misguided” or “a misunderstanding” b/c they were justifying going to the film and enjoying it. (And that was why I also linked my comment to a salon.com article excusing the black face of a Jewish female performer as something foisted on her rather than something she had a choice to participate in and how she traded on anti-black sentiment to displace antisemitic sentiment until she had amassed enough fame to stand up against the later and gender oppression – but not against racism.)

    In short, black face has a long history and denying or not knowing that history makes it that much easier to keep bringing it along with us in our present.

  5. prof susurro says:

    PS. Spike Lee was not doing black face, he was re-creating little known pieces of its history. Black ppl neither invented nor perpetuated black face nor the racism against black ppl that it perpetuates. If you really do think it began with Spike Lee, I strongly suggest you look at Al Jolson.

  6. I know all about the long history of blackface. But, it had nearly faded out of use. It never went away entirely, but it was at a low simmer. UNTIL Spike Lee made his film.

    Which is a film about what? A guy who makes a show that involves blackface, and “accidentally” brings blackface back as the most popular thing in America. So, after Spike made his movie, there was a Spike in use of blackface that continues to accelerate. Simple ironic coincidence? I think not.

    Take my word. I am very commited to this. I make a site about it called Bambizzoozled!.com.

  7. prof susurro says:

    I’m sorry but while I refuse to defend Spike Lee’s choices in that film, I think you are way off base about both the history of black face and the point Lee was trying to make (successful or not) about minstrelsy if you think he brought back contemporary cinematic black face.

    As someone who has taught about race in the media for over 15 years, I would like to suggest that anyone interested in this larger topic start with wide breadth of researched/documented literature on the subject. There are many complex, intersecting moments, in the history of minstrelsy, as well as the use of black face in other ritualized performances outside of the media/theater that shore up those moments when there are seeming lulls in national level media. When looking for this material, it is important not to fall into the modern trap of not interrogating your sources and/or the sources that those texts are drawing upon. (IE a trip to a library and/or online archive of primary and secondary sources)

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