"Blackface" and context

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Steve3007
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"Blackface" and context

Post by Steve3007 » June 15th, 2020, 4:07 pm

The killing of George Floyd led to protests in various countries. Where I live (at least) this re-ignited existing controversies about people with relatively light skin using makeup to darken their skin in order to play a part, either for musical entertainment, comedy or serious drama. Some organisations (e.g. the BBC) removed some TV shows and movies from some streaming services in order to avoid protest. The phenomenon has generally been referred to as "blackface" but it seems to me that two completely different activities are being incorrectly conflated and labelled with this term, with potentially absurd results.

One activity is something that dates back to the post civil war US, and possibly elsewhere. It is rooted in various negative stereotypes of African Americans, the most famous of which is probably Jim Crow. It has continued and evolved into many forms, such as "golliwogs" and black-and-white minstrel shows. This is "blackface".

The other activity involves adopting accents/voices, wearing costumes and putting on fake facial hair, wigs and makeup in order to attempt to look and sound as much as possible like a different person. Also known as acting.

To my mind, they are two completely separate activities, but a particular aspect of the latter - putting on makeup - when the makeup happens to be a particular colour, or range of colours, has been conflated with the former. In many cases, it seems to me a mistake to do that and, if followed through, potentially leads to absurdities like those that existed in apartheid South Africa, where laws were enacted which relied on the ability to objectively determine the "race" to which someone belonged from their appearance. Probably the most famous of the tests used to enforce those laws was the "pencil test". Stick a pencil in your hair. Shake your head. If it doesn't fall out, you're deemed to be "black" and are treated differently, in law, to people for whom the pencil does fall out. Clearly bonkers.

Any thoughts?

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Terrapin Station » June 15th, 2020, 5:12 pm

My thought is that the objections to both are ridiculous.

The objection with respect to acting is incredibly stupid, as the people who have a problem with this don't understand the core idea of acting--you're playing something you're not in real life.

But even the blackface objections are dimwitted, and objections about stereotypes, appropriation, etc. in general are ignorant.

There is real racism--there really are people who believe that there are "races" (which is the absurd notion that starts all of this nonsense) and who believe that some "races" are inherently superior/inferior, where this leads to significant discrimination (missed employment opportunities, exclusion from some housing, etc.) from those people based on their belief. That's what people should be concerned with. Of course, it's harder to identify than simply (stupidly) lumping all stereotyping, all appropriation, etc. together as "racism," and real racism may be relatively rare--it's certainly rarer than current social movements would have anyone believe, but it's worth doing the harder work to identify and combat real racism.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Steve3007 » June 15th, 2020, 5:44 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:...and real racism may be relatively rare--it's certainly rarer than current social movements would have anyone believe, but it's worth doing the harder work to identify and combat real racism.
My own anecdotal experience is that you're probably right about that, but that may simply reflect the people I know. Anecdotal evidence inevitably involves a small sample size, but large scale surveys which asked questions like "are you racist?" probably wouldn't be very accurate either (even with subtler questions).

But there does certainly seem to be a widespread perception that racism is not rare. My partner works for a University in student support and part of her job involves assessing/researching differences in the experiences and attainments of what are currently referred to as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students. This involves a lot of interviews with a lot of students. In a report on this subject that she recently wrote, and which I read, there seems to be a widespread perception among students that the University environment, and the attitudes of the lecturers, has various in-built biases against BAME students which tend to make them feel alienated.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Steve3007 » June 15th, 2020, 6:11 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:there really are people who believe that there are "races" (which is the absurd notion that starts all of this nonsense)
There are no separate human races if "race" is taken as a synonym for "species", because we're all members of the same species. But the social construct of "race" clearly does exist in some sense. It's a kind of circular, self-justifying existence in that we need to create these classes ("black", "white" or whatever) in order to identify whether people placed in those classes experience prejudice from other people as a result of the existence of the classes. Ideally, we take away the classes and the whole circular construct disappears. Ideally.

But if we were to argue that race is an abstract concept and not an ontologically real thing because it is a human-made classification; the map not the territory, then we could make a similar argument, but to a different degree, about species. Species is also a human-made classification, but the boundaries of the classes are much, much less blurred than those for race.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Terrapin Station » June 15th, 2020, 7:41 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 5:44 pm
But there does certainly seem to be a widespread perception that racism is not rare. My partner works for a University in student support and part of her job involves assessing/researching differences in the experiences and attainments of what are currently referred to as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students. This involves a lot of interviews with a lot of students. In a report on this subject that she recently wrote, and which I read, there seems to be a widespread perception among students that the University environment, and the attitudes of the lecturers, has various in-built biases against BAME students which tend to make them feel alienated.
Yeah, there's definitely a belief that it's very widespread and that it's a huge problem . . . a belief which itself seems to be a huge problem in my opinion.

Re "race," the consensus among biologists (including subdisciplines like geneticists) is that "race" makes little scientific sense as a biological category because it's not actually the case that there are strong genetic similarities among members of the same supposed "race" that would determine the race in question while being strong genetic dissimilarities to members of other supposed "races" in the same metrics.

Socially it's a different story. People certainly treat various superficial differences--including geography-oriented differences, in some cases religious-oriented differences, etc. as significant identifiers of "race." But the concept has little scientific merit outside of "goofy stuff that lots of people believe."

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Steve3007 » June 16th, 2020, 12:34 am

Terrapin Station wrote:Yeah, there's definitely a belief that it's very widespread and that it's a huge problem . . . a belief which itself seems to be a huge problem in my opinion.
Yes, that's what I meant by the "circular construct" comment in the post above. In order to quantify the problem of racism that we believe to exist we have to keep, and use, the racial classifications that allow the problem to exist in the first place. In the case of my partner's report on student attitudes, she uses the BAME classification.

Various forms have check boxes asking for a racial self-classification in order to be able to statistically analyze the distribution of particular racial classes in various contexts, to make assessments as to their representation compared to representation in the population as a whole. The intent is to promote equality of opportunity but one of the effects is also to reinforce the idea of race as a "real thing".
Re "race," the consensus among biologists (including subdisciplines like geneticists) is that "race" makes little scientific sense as a biological category because it's not actually the case that there are strong genetic similarities among members of the same supposed "race" that would determine the race in question while being strong genetic dissimilarities to members of other supposed "races" in the same metrics....
Yes, racial classifications are based on physical appearance, the geographical origins of relatively recent antecedents and cultural differences, including religion. They're not based on genetic differences because people can't easily see genetic differences, except insofar as they express in physical differences. And, as with most genotype > phenotype links, the correlation is much more complex than simply "there is a gene for...".

The human emphasis on tribal loyalty (trust the tribe, fear the stranger) and visual information, combined, make differences in physical appearance (particularly in the face) psychologically very powerful. But the human emphasis on social interaction also make conversation and empathy important. Hence, the best antidote to "fear the stranger" reactions is mixing ("multiculturalism"). Knowing a person socially quickly trumps physical appearance.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by LuckyR » June 16th, 2020, 4:46 am

Racial discrimination is rare? I wouldn't give the estimation from someone who is not subject to said discrimination much credence.

Also, what is rare? If 1% of interactions are discriminatory and you have 100 random interactions a day, folks will feel discrimination every single day (on average). That's not rare.
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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Felix » June 16th, 2020, 6:36 am

Steve3007: One activity is something that dates back to the post civil war US, and possibly elsewhere. It is rooted in various negative stereotypes of African Americans, the most famous of which is probably Jim Crow. It has continued and evolved into many forms, such as "golliwogs" and black-and-white minstrel shows. This is "blackface".

The other activity involves adopting accents/voices, wearing costumes and putting on fake facial hair, wigs and makeup in order to attempt to look and sound as much as possible like a different person. Also known as acting.
Your post displays an ignorance of American history. The two aspects of blackface you mentioned tended to go together, thus black people's objection to the practice. It also involved job discrimination in that caucasians were commonly hired to don black face and play the part of a black person rather than hire a black person to play that part. So while this custom may now be innocent at times, formerly it was not.
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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by evolution » June 16th, 2020, 7:15 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 5:12 pm
My thought is that the objections to both are ridiculous.

The objection with respect to acting is incredibly stupid, as the people who have a problem with this don't understand the core idea of acting--you're playing something you're not in real life.

But even the blackface objections are dimwitted, and objections about stereotypes, appropriation, etc. in general are ignorant.

There is real racism--there really are people who believe that there are "races" (which is the absurd notion that starts all of this nonsense) and who believe that some "races" are inherently superior/inferior, where this leads to significant discrimination (missed employment opportunities, exclusion from some housing, etc.) from those people based on their belief. That's what people should be concerned with. Of course, it's harder to identify than simply (stupidly) lumping all stereotyping, all appropriation, etc. together as "racism," and real racism may be relatively rare--it's certainly rarer than current social movements would have anyone believe, but it's worth doing the harder work to identify and combat real racism.
What is 'real racism' to you?

Believing there are "races", or, believing there are "races" AND believing some "races" are inherently superior/inferior than others are?

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by evolution » June 16th, 2020, 7:33 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 6:11 pm
Terrapin Station wrote:there really are people who believe that there are "races" (which is the absurd notion that starts all of this nonsense)
There are no separate human races if "race" is taken as a synonym for "species", because we're all members of the same species. But the social construct of "race" clearly does exist in some sense. It's a kind of circular, self-justifying existence in that we need to create these classes ("black", "white" or whatever) in order to identify whether people placed in those classes experience prejudice from other people as a result of the existence of the classes. Ideally, we take away the classes and the whole circular construct disappears. Ideally.
But there is NO actual race NOR class. So, there is NOTHING to actually take away.

And, if we want to speak 'ideally'. There is NO actual separate thing, EVER. The only actual separation exists in human thought.

Also, the only reason to "check" whether there is prejudice is because EVERY adult who is actually prejudiced is in denial of their racist, classist, and separatist views.

Any adult just has to ask their own 'self' if they are racist, classist, and a separatist to prove just how much 'denial' adults are actually in.

How many people here would actually admit that they are a racist, a classist, and a separatist?
Steve3007 wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 6:11 pm
But if we were to argue that race is an abstract concept and not an ontologically real thing because it is a human-made classification; the map not the territory, then we could make a similar argument, but to a different degree, about species. Species is also a human-made classification, but the boundaries of the classes are much, much less blurred than those for race.
If you think "race" is not blurred, then pick any two so called "races", and define them here for us. Let us see if you can define them without any blurring.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by evolution » June 16th, 2020, 7:37 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 7:41 pm
Steve3007 wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 5:44 pm
But there does certainly seem to be a widespread perception that racism is not rare. My partner works for a University in student support and part of her job involves assessing/researching differences in the experiences and attainments of what are currently referred to as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students. This involves a lot of interviews with a lot of students. In a report on this subject that she recently wrote, and which I read, there seems to be a widespread perception among students that the University environment, and the attitudes of the lecturers, has various in-built biases against BAME students which tend to make them feel alienated.
Yeah, there's definitely a belief that it's very widespread and that it's a huge problem . . . a belief which itself seems to be a huge problem in my opinion.
The only real 'problem' here is that ALL adults are 'racist' and how can this 'racism' be stopped?

By the way, the actual solution to this problem, which is very simple and easy indeed, WILL prevent racism altogether.
Terrapin Station wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 7:41 pm
Re "race," the consensus among biologists (including subdisciplines like geneticists) is that "race" makes little scientific sense as a biological category because it's not actually the case that there are strong genetic similarities among members of the same supposed "race" that would determine the race in question while being strong genetic dissimilarities to members of other supposed "races" in the same metrics.

Socially it's a different story. People certainly treat various superficial differences--including geography-oriented differences, in some cases religious-oriented differences, etc. as significant identifiers of "race." But the concept has little scientific merit outside of "goofy stuff that lots of people believe."

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by chewybrian » June 16th, 2020, 7:45 am

Steve3007 wrote:
June 15th, 2020, 6:11 pm
But if we were to argue that race is an abstract concept and not an ontologically real thing because it is a human-made classification; the map not the territory, then we could make a similar argument, but to a different degree, about species. Species is also a human-made classification, but the boundaries of the classes are much, much less blurred than those for race.
I don't see how that applies to species. Race or breed are human ideas, but species are classified by nature, whether we bother to notice the distinctions or not. A doberman can reproduce with a chihuahua or a great dane, but not with a pig or a kangaroo.
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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Terrapin Station » June 16th, 2020, 9:22 am

evolution wrote:
June 16th, 2020, 7:37 am
The only real 'problem' here is that ALL adults are 'racist' and how can this 'racism' be stopped?
How in the world would you be defining "racism" so that it's the case that "All adults are racist"?

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Terrapin Station » June 16th, 2020, 9:25 am

LuckyR wrote:
June 16th, 2020, 4:46 am
Racial discrimination is rare? I wouldn't give the estimation from someone who is not subject to said discrimination much credence.

Also, what is rare? If 1% of interactions are discriminatory and you have 100 random interactions a day, folks will feel discrimination every single day (on average). That's not rare.
Being paranoid doesn't imply that people are out to get you. They may be out to get you, but evidence other than victim interpretation is necessary.

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Re: "Blackface" and context

Post by Terrapin Station » June 16th, 2020, 9:29 am

Felix wrote:
June 16th, 2020, 6:36 am
Steve3007: One activity is something that dates back to the post civil war US, and possibly elsewhere. It is rooted in various negative stereotypes of African Americans, the most famous of which is probably Jim Crow. It has continued and evolved into many forms, such as "golliwogs" and black-and-white minstrel shows. This is "blackface".

The other activity involves adopting accents/voices, wearing costumes and putting on fake facial hair, wigs and makeup in order to attempt to look and sound as much as possible like a different person. Also known as acting.
Your post displays an ignorance of American history. The two aspects of blackface you mentioned tended to go together, thus black people's objection to the practice. It also involved job discrimination in that caucasians were commonly hired to don black face and play the part of a black person rather than hire a black person to play that part. So while this custom may now be innocent at times, formerly it was not.
In the days of old Hollywood, the situation was that they wanted to hire well-known, well-established actors to play roles, and they didn't worry about what "race" the actors were.

Now, we could say that there was a problem in that for the most part only whites were well-known, well-established actors, whereas minorites tended to get less significant, less serious parts, and we can try to figure out why that was, but we can't automatically assume that it was the case for racist reasons on anyone's part.

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