The Trouble with Blackface Liberalism

The Trouble with Blackface Liberalism February 5, 2019
Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia has been asked to step down after images of a person dressed as a Klansman and in Blackface surfaced from a 1984 yearbook. The good thing about quitting the Bible last week (days 210-216 of my year-long Biblical sabbatical) is that I have no parable from Jesus about the Klan or Jesus dressing in Blackface.

When the news broke about Governor Northam’s yearbook and questionable nickname from his past, I was not surprised. I do not believe that all Republicans are racists and all Democrats are the Racial Lord and Savior.

I figured if the man had changed, then, Hallelujah, keep it moving.

However, Northam’s handling of the situation gave me a reason to pause about whether he was indeed a changed man.

How can you change something that you own up to and then deny? At the time of this writing, I do not know if he was the person in Blackface or wearing the Klan costume (was it a costume?).

After I saw the 2013 video of Northam refusing to shake the hand of E.W. Jackson, an African-American political opponent, during a political debate, it made it awfully difficult to see “change.”

One could argue that he was being a rude competitor and would have been disrespectful to any candidate in the situation, regardless of race. However, when you put shoe polish on your face to impersonate Michael Jackson, have a nickname of “Coonman,” and there is a picture in which you might be either dressed as a Klansman or a person in Blackface, race is kept on the table for this matter.

This issue brings up the growing need for Democrats to eat some humble racial pie and stop acting like they are high and mighty.

Challenge some White liberals 0n their questionable racial behavior and you will receive a “How dare you? I have been good to You people” attitude. The woke ones who talk about how they are checking their White privilege are quick to use their privilege to check out and return to the land of milk and money when they are called on their race issues.
And that’s on a good day.

Someone needs to say it.

People with prejudice, biases, and bigotry exist within the Democratic party. These individuals might not dress up in Blackface, but like the rest of us mortals, expanding their social lenses would benefit them and the world.

Liberals can be racist just as much, if not more than conservatives. Instead of propping themselves up on the political and ethical high pedestals to look down upon the “deplorable” Republicans, it would behoove Democrats to look in the mirror.

To their credit, the majority of the Democrat politicians have called for Northam to resign, instead of making excuses.

What Has Changed?

Whenever someone drags up something from years ago, my response varies from surprise to unphased. If the former, typically, once my initial shock wears off, I ask, “What has changed?” or “How has the person changed?”

Seriously, I have not met a person without a past, including myself.

There is a difference between being a work in progress and being an unapologetic piece of work.

I have more of a problem with someone who pretends to have it all together than someone who struggles as s/he intentionally puts effort into making sure the past stays the past.

Remember when people were bringing up past tweets from Sam Seder and writings by Joy Reid?

Something I wrote holds true today:

How far do we go back with dragging up past comments to accuse people of being the bigoted flavor of the week? At the current mob speed, we might begin searching as far back as people’s kindergarten years in order to psychoanalyze their macaroni art for traces of bigotry. I can see it now:

The villagers emerge in the dusk of night, tramping along the dusty streets of town. Anxious citizens peak through the curtains, hiding behind closed doors in fear of not becoming entangled in the bloodlust. Others, frantically gather their pitchforks, torches, and other instruments of warfare fitting to the affair, and join the crowd. A collective identity forms in taking down their latest enemy.

At last, the villain emerges.

Images splash across the news of a remorseful senator, as she holds her head in shame, apologizing for racist and xenophobic messages in one of her childhood refrigerator artworks.

Satisfied, mob sets their attention on getting a conservative news host fired, who wrote a sexist paragraph at the age of eight for a class assignment. Now in his mid-forties, he has long since changed views for the better. It does not matter. The mob comes for him next.

Okay, hopefully, we do not go this far. Unlike the people who go after the Reids or Seders of this world, I think it is dangerous to draw these hard and fast lines about something written or stated from their past, especially out of context and without hearing them out. I think it is dangerous no matter what political leanings people have…

By ignoring people’s journeys and focusing on past bigotry, we create a world that discourages people to change their ableist, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, ageist, etc. beliefs. Their present or future becomes rendered hopeless.

Think about it.

According to a number of my skin-folk, to be a woke Black person I am supposed to have a sole focus on the racism in the Republican party.

Girl bye.
Boy bye.
Chile, please.

Possessing biases is human. All of us have them. Which party will be willing to make it a practice to model challenging them and upholding the values they espouse, even when dealing with their opposition? The country continues to wait.

What Does God Have to Do With Blackface?

What does God have to do with Blackface liberalism? My week without the Bible added more freedom in contemplating God and the path of Christ on this matter.

Following Christ aligns with other belief systems in that the journey is one of knowing self and love.

Love is not without consequence, for it is just. I feel compelled to make this clear because I am ever convinced that people think love is either cruel punishment with hellfire or covering/enabling behaviors that bring harm to the world. Love calls us to be the highest and greatest versions of who we are- it invites us to live our true selves.

Applying this view, if Northam had shared a story of transformation-elaborated on his journey with some serious ‘splaining about shaking his opponent’s hand, I would have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

It would mean that we have one less bigot in the world to influence others to transform, too. He could be an inspiration and a challenge for others to change.

When it comes to pasts, I think we need the weigh out factors like severity of the infraction and the person’s journey since the incident(s) in question.

I look at Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon (Is it just me or is it hard to say Ben Carson without inserting “neurosurgeon?”), who once was an anger-filled youth who almost killed a person, who turned it around to become a neurosurgeon and public servant.

Ben Carson did not run from or hide his past. From my understanding, he has changed his ways for good.

I love a good come back. I relish in a good redemption story.
These are the narratives that inspire hope and triumph in spite of adversity.

What if we said Ben Carson could not become a neurosurgeon or run for public office because of his past, despite turning it around?

Senator Robert Byrd is one that people either still hold with suspicion or laud as an example of racial transformation. Byrd went from rising in the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan and leading a filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and opposing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to a man who turned a corner to be praised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Do we want people to remain bigots, or do we want them to become loving and free individuals?
Unfortunately, some of our pasts are really our present. That is, we have not changed. There are no skeletons in the closet because the hidden issues are alive and well.

If people are committed to carrying on in their limited and harmful ways of thinking and navigating this world, then, by all means, carry on village mob… I mean, pray for them.

However, if people have demonstrated remorse and put in the actions to show change, then let their history be a testament to the power of love.

Let us consider that many people are not hiding skeletons. They have probably moved on in life and forgotten about whatever crazy dealings they did years ago. There are things that I talk with old friends about, and they have no clue. What one person remembers another one forgets. The reality is that everyone does not remember everything.

Herein lies part of our social challenge. If someone actually has a story of transformation, would we be willing to hear it?

A Grander Vision

Last week, really got me to thinking about the world we are creating and how we let our politics get in the way of expanding our vision.

On an unseasonably milder day, I went out for a walk in a local park. As expected, it was crowded with people from all walks of life and ages. I wish you could have seen it:

Teenagers walking on a slackline.
A father taking his young son out for the first batting practice of the season (he told me).
A family sitting on a blanket.
A baby squealing in delight as one of the parents blow bubbles.
An older couple “people watching” as they sat close to each other on a bench.
A mixed gender and race group of adults playing frisbee.

We were people of various ethnic origins enjoying separate lives together.

My heart was overcome with joy with people sharing space and enjoying life. No riots and fights. Everyone was out to enjoy the weather.

A White woman with a young child stopped and smiled as she walked past me, saying, “Isn’t this great?”

“It is. I am loving it,” I replied.

As I walked, I thought about how we are in desperation for vision in this world- a vision where people are not competing and trying to out socially evolve the other, but one like the park. A concept where everyone has a place.

Realizing this beautiful vision requires sharing in a society where individualistic socialization within profoundly racially isolated contexts have been the norm. Such a vision would invite give and take by groups of people for everyone to enjoy the space together.

My gears are still turning, and my heart remains overflowing, as I feel challenged to expand my vision with the question:

Where do I/we go from here?

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  • Daniel G. Johnson

    The Sam Seder incident was a fraud. A right wing entity took a piece of Seder’s satire and framed Sam with having made an ugly comment. MSNBC fired Seder quickly, and then took it back once the fraud was made manifest.

    So, why did you allude to Seder’s situation as having anything to do with this topic?

  • @RaceandGrace

    Thanks for your question. I stated my perspective/reflective process about the Northam controversy, and my I referenced a post I had written about the Reid and Seder controversies that I still find applicable. I shall quote from this post: “…Unlike the people who go after the Reids or Seders of this world, I think it is dangerous to draw these hard and fast lines about something written or stated from their past, especially out of context and without hearing them out. I think it is dangerous no matter what political leanings people have…”

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    In my view, any comment on the Seder situation should not only contain but highlight that he was totally swift boated. I disagree with you that Seder’s previous situation is germane to the Northam situation.

  • @RaceandGrace

    I respect your view. I empathize with you for feeling bothered that Seder was mentioned in a post discussing Blackface liberalism and Northam. I can understand why you would want people to know without a shadow of a doubt, of a doubt, of a doubt about the different cases. I gather from your initial comment that you perceived I was unaware about the situation surrounding Seder. The handling of both Reid’s and Seder’s situations is part of what prompted the original post that I linked.

    We agree about how problematic it is to draw conclusions about something that has been written or stated in the past and taking it out of context. We agree about how damaging it can be when this happens and when we fail to hear the person out.

    On the other hand, if people do not know what taking writing out context and failing to hear someone out means, then perhaps more discussion to support their knowledge base is in order.

    With this being said, I still think reflecting on our reactionary processes whenever someone drags up writing, pictures, or statements from the past can be beneficial. Still, I believe that the ways we responded in the past and whatever lessons learned (or not) are ever useful in the present and the future (Seder, Reid, Northam, etc.).

    Thank you again for your question and for sharing your perspective.

  • adriancrutch

    …everybody has “problems”…but we see the problem with power structure in politics when both sides try to rectify the fallout from these different forms of behavior…