FYI, BYU: Blackface and Black History Month is not a good combination

Okay, so I guess it needs to be said: Blackface is never okay. Not ever. Under any circumstances.

Furthermore, it’s also not okay (even if the original intent might be good) to use blackface to pretend to be black in order to get Brigham Young University students to look foolishly racist on camera for kicks. This is what Comedian Dave Ackerman did he decided to quiz BYU students about Black History Month. Predictably, they knew very little and the entire video turns into a mirage of black stereotypes. Fun times.

What’s most disturbing to me is not the students ignorance lack of knowledge of the subject of Black History, but the fact that this comedian felt it necessary to paint his face black in order to illicit the responses. I’m sorry but I’m just not seeing how the face paint is helping him here?

And while the lack of knowledge about black history — which really is all of our history — is alarming, the casual nature in which the students make fun of black culture is pretty disturbing. Towards the end of the video when the students are pretending to talk and walk like black people I found myself perplexed considering how few actual black people they must be exposed to in the middle of Utah.

Ackerman has said he made the video to “fight ignorance with ignorance,” and he’s right about one thing: blackface and everyone in this video look really ignorant.

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9 Comments

  1. Posted February 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    We had a couple of blackface incidents in Germany recently. One of the arguments blackface-apologists used was “we don’t have a racist tradition with blackface, we’re not the US” As ridiculous that ‘argument’ is on it’s own, I’m surprised that rather high profile people still use blackface in the US.
    (Or I would be surprised, weren’t casual racism still so rampant everywhere. :( )

  2. Posted February 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    It also doesn’t help that BYU has an infamous reputation for racism.

  3. Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    This is making the rounds on my facebook. Trying to make BYU students look racist and ignorant is not original. But putting on black face and then trying to insinuate that it’s more racist to not comment on black face when a guy in black face points a camera at you and starts asking questions (most of which were framed in such a racist way that I’m not sure you could actually answer them without sounding racist) about black history and asking for imitations of black people doesn’t go very far towards making the joke.

  4. Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with the blackface. I think the comic correctly assumed he’d need to adopt an image of a Black man that most the kids at BYU would be comfortable with. He needed the students to be at ease. If he’d presented the questions in an academic way, they would never have been as honest.

    Do I hate the stereotype? Yes. But I have to acknowledge that it exists. And that for many people, that stereotype is their reality.

  5. Posted February 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I agree that blackface is not okay, regardless of intent. As Zerlina points out, white students are not exposed to many people of color in
    Utah
    in general and at BYU specifically. Considering the largely white demographics, I don’t know why Ackerman felt compelled to adopt blackface; it seems clear from the video that BYU students were quite willing to share their lack of knowledge in front of their friends and partners, perhaps feeling comfortable that everyone shares the same thoughts and assumptions.

  6. Posted February 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Blackface brought out a different response in the students which made the video more genuine.

    Also, this is protected free speech so there is no reason to even worry about it as you can do nothing about it.

    All speech must be protected. I may not agree with what you say but I fully support your right to say it is the attitude everyone on here should be taking.

    • Posted February 11, 2012 at 12:50 am | Permalink

      Free speech is protected against coercive censorship; it’s not intended that it be protected against social judgment from one’s peers. The ‘marketplace of ideas’ requires that speech be free to be expressed, but also that ideas be allowed to collide and that citizens express their judgment and dissatisfaction with other people’s ideas that they see as bad or harmful.

      So, “I may not agree with what you say, but I support your right to say it, but you’re annoying and ignorant for doing so and I wish you’d stop” is a perfectly reasonable response to bad speech.

  7. Posted February 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m hesitant about Blackface, but seriously is BYU full of tools or did they edit out the ones that are more enlightened?

    • Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      The Pacific Northwest has a very sparse black population. I felt very sad for the two black children who went to my rural school in Idaho. They were both adopted but probably had to deal with this crap every day from the cowboy types. Migrant workers and their kids were probably treated even worse, they’re seen as the source of meth and crime.

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