Childhood vacations saw us visit relatives in Jefferson and Stephens Counties.
We returned from Oklahoma one year just in time to see our hometown of Westfield, Indiana, put on a minstrel show in the high school auditorium. Friends, neighbors and members of our church performed in blackface in the most stereotyped, demeaning fashion in a town that prides itself as a stopping point along The Underground Railroad.
I was a pretty good singer as a kid. There’s a real possibility I could have been on stage if not for our summer vacation. Thank you, Duncan.
I don’t have to argue that I was a clueless kid in equally clueless times.
Not so for the Democratic governor and attorney general of Virginia. In the case of Gov. Ralph Northam, his blackface bigotry occurred in 1984. He was in medical school – a full-fledged adult.
Attorney General Mark Herring fessed up to have similarly worn blackface at an undergraduate party. Again, this was at a time when he should have known – and acted – better.
Funny, but we seldom do.
One of my journalistic heroes is Tim Giago, an Oglala-Lakota from South Dakota, who has been writing the good fight for First Nation causes for most of his 84 years. It is no accident that he has been designated Nanwica Kciji (Stands Up For Them) by his tribe.
In a column posted by indianz.com, Giago observes:
“The turmoil in the government of Virginia points out a bigger picture that maybe all of America can use as a lesson in understanding racism….
“There are thousands of examples of white men and women unknowingly literally wearing ‘redface’ without a whisper of an outcry. Which begs the question, why is it racism for white people to wear blackface, but not racist to wear ‘redface?’”
From school Thanksgiving celebrations to fans of teams with Indian-related mascots, “redface,” feathered bonnets and “war paint” are acceptable, Giago says.
“How could it possibly be racist to demean the Indians,” he asks, “when the rank imitation of them is only meant to honor them?…. If the white race wants to honor Native Americans, start by honoring our treaties…. And please, please keep in mind; there is no difference between wearing Blackface than there is in wearing “Redface”.”
Another headline at indianz.com, seconded Giago’s claim: “Indian Health Service fails its trust and treaty obligations.”
Recently, someone looked at shoes designed by singer Katy Perry and pareidoliacally (as in seeing faces in clouds) declared them to resemble blackface. The shoes were pulled from the market.
Yet, “Redfacing” flourishes.
Don’t you just love it when a Mr. Giago points out something obvious that should make you change your behavior immediately?
If you didn’t know better before, you do now.