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Message to White Folks: You are a Douche if You perform Blackface [BYU and Ackerman]

February 14, 2012

Behold… sanctimonious, self-promoting, pointless bullshit!

Via Balancing Jane

Stand up comic, Dave Ackerman, goes to Brigham Young University to find out what BYU students know about Black History Month…. in blackface. Yes, Dave Ackerman is a white man. Yes, Dave Ackerman is a Douche.

There are moments when my contempt at a certain type of conversation around race is so overwhelming that all I can think to say is “oh man, fuck you!” Which is really why I have a blog. So that I don’t go around saying, “oh man, fuck you!” to random people and getting my ass kicked. Everyone wins. So back to this horrible piece of “undercover” bullshit I happened to be exposed to over the weekend.

The students that Ackerman meets uniformly display laughable degrees of ignorance and political incorrectness about black history month. Hilarity PLUS a moment of deep thought! [Sidenote: The essence of such videos is making fun of people’s ignorance while applauding the viewer’s superior knowledge. We are all in on the joke that these people are stupid! Not surprisingly, that strategy has always been dick-ish.]

The video above could have passed for a Jay Leno-style exposé of how un-informed the general public are about race (even if they are clearly educated). This is not a particularly new or surprising revelation. There are lots of random people in the world who are clueless about knowledge that we take for granted. And when you give that trope a racial twist, it’s easy (and interesting) to see how being insulated in a homogeneous community (in this case, the white community) can make you blind to your own reductive, racist constructs.

That’s useful. There’s value in seeing these white, college students parrot “Martin Luther King Jr.” and “Malcolm X” as the definitive black leaders of our time. It forces us to examine our own limited understanding of black history. It challenges us to look at how the ideas and activism from these black civil rights leaders have been commodified to sell a brand about racial politics. They have earned more respect than having their politics being re-written as a punchline.

But what makes this video deeply offensive is the additional ideas that it also peddles.

1. Using Black People to Excuse Racist, Ignorant White People:

The video prominently features a couple of black students who also make questionable, off-hand comments about black history (month). Let’s put aside the fact that black history has been reduced to one’s knowledge about whether it occurs in February or March — let’s leave that irritation behind.

What is ingratiating is the underlying message that if black people don’t know about “their own racial history” then it must be okay that white people don’t. It’s based on an assumption that racism is something that is taught in school (or discussed in tv shows or blogs). It denies the truth that racism is a systematic and social condition that people of color have to face to various degrees all the time, everywhere. And this condition is perpetuated and aided by white privilege.

Racism is a social construct that has left entire communities terrorized as their black, teenage sons are gunned down in broad daylight in the year 2012. Maybe that kid might not have been well-versed in Black History Month, but I am certain he understood racism and its systematic and complete power over the powerless.

2. Message to White Folks: You are a Douche if You perform Blackface (yes, even when you are “exposing” racism). Worth Repeating.

Again, race is a construct. It’s a belief system based on a lie that people of color are “different” and “less than” — a belief system that has gained institutional, political, legal, social and cultural weight. So much so, that all of us — all of us — believe this lie to some degree or another. The difference is that some people gain and profit enormously from believing that lie, while others don’t. Still others struggle everyday under the very real weight of its repressive boot.

What race is not — is the color of your skin. [google image search ‘light-skinned black people’ and insert it here. Or better yet, go out and meet some actual black people].

Performing blackface is offensive because it turns black people into caricatures of race. It reduces the experience of being a person (in this case a black person) to the comedic and sneaky value gained from bad make-up. It also has a long, well-documented and racist history of mocking black people — by equating blackness with ugliness and buffoonery. You know, elementary black history that Ackerman pokes fun at the BYU students for not having. Irony.

Performing blackface effectively silences black people’s voices from conversations about race. Ha, just like Ackerman’s little BYU video. Not a coincidence.

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