From former “Today” host Megyn Kelly’s defense of blackface worn for Halloween costumes to the recent scandal in Virginia, blackface has reared its ugly and most demeaning head.
So much so that officials at museums such as the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History in Baltimore were forced to host conversations on the legacy of blackface.
Kaye Whitehead, talk show host and Loyola University Maryland associate professor of communication and African-American studies, moderated the discussion.
Whitehead, an award-winning author of “Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis,” also sat in on a screening of the documentary “Ethnic Notions,” which took viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-Black prejudice.
While Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s Attorney General Mark Herring both have come under firing and have heard calls for their resignation from office because of admitting donning blackface in the 1980s, the controversy has continued.
Following the Northam and Herring scandal, reporters at USA Today were assigned to review hundreds of college yearbooks from the 1970s and 1980s, presumably in search of other officials, celebrities and individuals who may have donned blackface or other offensive attire.
The newspaper reported that it had identified at least 200 instances of racist and derogatory images and material in yearbooks across the country.
But one stood out.
The 1988-89 yearbook from Arizona State University which the New York Times reported was edited by a 21-year-old named Nicole Carroll, now the editor-in-chief of USA Today.
The page showed two white male students covered in black paint while smiling at the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity’s Halloween party.
As described by the New York Times: On the left, a shirtless man with boxing gloves over his shoulders was dressed as Mike Tyson, while the other student, wearing a wig and a bikini top, was Robin Givens.
Like others, Carroll was forced to issue an apology.
“I’m sorry for the hurt I caused back then and the hurt it will cause today,” she wrote in USA Today last week about overseeing the publication of the blackface photograph.
USA Today released a statement saying that when the photograph was discovered, Carroll “immediately recused herself from involvement in this coverage.”
Carroll said, “Clearly the 21-year-old me who oversaw the yearbook and that page didn’t understand how offensive the photo was. I wish I had.”
She added: “Today’s 51-year-old me of course understands and is crushed by this mistake.”
In a statement, a spokesman for Alpha Kappa Psi said the fraternity was sorry for the pain the photo caused.
The New York Times reported that Arizona State University officials also apologized for the photo.
Still, blackface remains problematic and, for some reason, has reared its racist head again from Prada and Gucci to Katy Perry’s shoe design.
Filmmaker Spike Lee has led the call by other celebrities to boycott companies.
In a recent announcement, Lee said he would no longer wear Gucci or Prada “until they hire some Black designers to be in da room when [these things] happen.”
NPR pointed out the previous use of blackface by two of the biggest stars of late night television.
Back in 2000, when comedian Jimmy Kimmel was the host of “The Man Show,” he had a recurring skit in which he wore blackface to impersonate former Utah Jazz basketball player Karl Malone. In the skit, he mocked Malone’s speech and intelligence while wearing a bald cap, full-body blackface and Malone’s jersey.
In another segment, Kimmel wore dark makeup while impersonating Oprah Winfrey, NPR reported.
Jimmy Fallon once portrayed comedian Chris Rock while wearing dark makeup in an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 2000, according to NPR.
Kimmel and Fallon have mostly stayed silent on the Northam scandal and blackface in their late-night shows, NPR said.
In his opening monologue following the State of the Union address earlier this month, Fallon noted how all the Democratic women in Congress wore white, joking that Northam was probably thinking, “Oh, sure, when they do it, it’s OK,” referencing the photo in Northam’s yearbook in which someone is wearing a white KKK robe.
Blackface was historically used to ridicule and mock Black people and depict them as unintelligent and inferior. It created a lasting, distorted image of Black people, which further contributed to their mistreatment and segregation, according to NPR.
Lee, director of such hit films as “Do the Right Thing,” “She’s Gotta Have It” and “Malcolm X,” simply called blackface hateful.
“It’s obvious to people that they don’t have a clue when it comes to racist, blackface hateful images. Wake up,” he said.