When the photo of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia emerged, it effectively ended his career. In the image, Northam and a friend are in a KKK robe. Another image shows Northam in blackface. The first photo, which appeared in a 1984 yearbook, showed Northam in the racist situation. Most Democrats in Virginia agree that Northam should resign and many residents of the state agree.
Although blackface is widely considered to be racist, many celebrities have used it to further their careers. Most notably, late night talk show hosts Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel painted their faces black to impersonate black men.
Back when he was on Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon used blackface as a way to imitate Chris Rock, the comedian. Jimmy Kimmel used the racist practice to portray basketball player, Carl Malone. Billy Crystal used blackface on his appearance of Saturday Night Live to depict Sammy Davis Jr. Crystal revisited the look in 2012 during the Academy Awards.
The list of celebrities who have painted their face black is quite expansive. And it demonstrates that there is a lot of ignorance around blackface and how much it offends some people.
The following list of celebrities wore blackface in public.
Judy Garland in Everybody Sing
Gene Wilder in Silver Streak
Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder
Elizabeth Taylor in Il Giovane Toscanini
Joni Mitchell wore blackface for the cover of her 1977 album “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.”
Ted Danson dressed as black minstrelsy in 1993 while he was dating Whoopi Goldberg.
Kylie Jenner was accused of darkening her features in the form of blackface so she could look more attractive on Instagram.
Blackface’s demoralizing practice dates back to the 1800s. Blackface minstrelsy featured white men with their faces painted black and their lips and ears exaggerated. They portrayed black men as uneducated, hyper-sexual, lazy, and fearful. The most famous character was Jim Crow, whose name was given to laws that legalized racial segregation throughout the country.
Frederick Douglass was one of the first men to stand up and denounce black minstrelsy. In a review he wrote for The North Star, the articulate former slave wrote:
“We believe he does not object to the ‘Virginia Minstrels,’ ‘Christy’s Minstrels,’ the ‘Ethiopian Serenaders,’ or any of the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow-citizens.”
When Douglass wrote those words, 89 percent of the 4.4 million black men living in the United States were enslaved.
In regards to Governor Northam, his political career might very well be over. The black caucus, which is an influential group in the Democratic party, issued a statement concerning the racist images from the governor’s past. Other politicians have also come forward to criticize him, Senator Tim Kaine most notably.
“Everybody is still grappling with the allegation and trying to — we all believe it should be taken seriously, but I don’t think you’ll see us reach a conclusion about that,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who added that the lawmakers would monitor events. “We’re going to watch it over the next couple of days.”
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