What’s wrong with blackface?

The Jazz Singer: Al Jolson in blackface

Another Halloween, another blackface controversy. This time, it’s at the University of Florida, where members of a fraternity dressed up as rappers for a “Rock Stars and Rappers”-themed party. Those involved have since apologized, claiming ignorance of history.

What’s so wrong with blackface?

I know! I know!

Here’s some of the history.

Blackface was used in 19th and early 20th century “minstrel shows.” These popular offerings featured white performers in blackface who sang, danced, and clowned around for the benefit of white audiences. They did not portray blacks so much as they parodied them by perpetuating stereotypes of stupidity and laziness. One of the most popular minstrels was Thomas Rice, who perfected the “Jim Crow” persona, a caricature that served to reinforce white supremacy. It’s no accident that the term “Jim Crow” went on to become the common term for segregation—the legal system implemented in the United States in the century after the Civil War to keep African-Americans down and distant.

Historian Donald L. Grant, in The Way It Was in the South—The Black Experience in Georgia, writes:

Minstrel shows carried negative Negro stereotypes down to the lowest level of popular culture. These acts probably originated on the plantation, where slaves entertained themselves and their masters. By 1769, Northern whites in blackface parodied drunken blacks to amuse other whites. Both blacks and whites in blackface developed this form of popular entertainment. The Brooks Negro Minstrels were organized in Macon in October 1861. To obtain permission to use the Macon concert hall, they had to donate the proceeds from the first performance to Confederate soldiers’ relief. Admission was fifty cents for whites and half that for “servants.”

After the Civil War, white actors in blackface would do cakewalks, “coon songs,” and “darkie” dialect jokes. They did not portray blacks; they played their stereotypes of blacks. The audiences, most of whom had little honest contact with blacks, often did not know the difference and assumed the caricatures accurately depicted blacks as brutish, lazy, stupid, and dishonest, but with a streak of cleverly dissembled cunning.

While blackface has radioactive for more than a century, this knowledge has been slow to seep through to succeeding generations. Hence, our latest news story.

Nathan Crabbe of the Gainesville Sun reports:

A photo of University of Florida fraternity members wearing blackface at a Halloween party last week has brought criticism, apologies and a town hall meeting Thursday.

It isn’t the first time a racially insensitive Halloween costume has raised concerns at UF and beyond. Students at Ohio University conducted a campaign last year called “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” to raise awareness of the issue.

“This comes up like clockwork every year around Halloween across the country at different colleges,” said Katheryn Russell-Brown, UF law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.

The issue gains significance at UF at a time when just 10 black students are among the 287 students entering the law school this fall, she said. The problem is not just that people would wear such costumes, she said, but that their friends would not say anything.

“What we’re talking about is not so much whether people can do this … but what message it sends and what kind of community we want to have,” she said.

Last week’s incident involved a Halloween party with a “rock stars and rappers” theme held off campus Wednesday by the UF chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. A photo was taken of two fraternity members wearing dark paint on their faces and bodies along with baseball caps, gold chains and sagging pants.

The photo was posted the next day on the Facebook page of the Gator chapter of the NAACP, along with the message that “the fact that this is seen as acceptable is where the problem lies!”

The national fraternity, chapter president and fraternity members who wore the costumes subsequently issued apologies.

Read more.

AAUW study: Gender pay gap persists

The Ammerican Association of University Women has just released  Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation, a study showing that recent female college graduates receive, on average, only 82 percent of their male peers in equivalent jobs.  Also, women who are working full-time one year out of college are spending 15 percent of their earnings to repay student loans.

You can read the report summary here.

And then there’s this: The United States comes in 22nd out of 135 countries in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report conducted by the World Economic Forum.



Is yoga unconstitutional?

Apparently, the parents believe you can take yoga out of eastern religion but you can’t take the eastern religion out of yoga, or something like that.

From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

ENCINITAS – A group of parents is bent out of shape by free yoga classes at schools in this San Diego County beachside community, fearing they are indoctrinating youngsters in eastern religion.

“There’s a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices,” the parents’ attorney, Dean Broyles, told the North County Times (http://bit.ly/RUMM4T ).

In an Oct. 12 email to district Superintendent Tim Baird, Broyles called the yoga program unconstitutional and said he may take unspecified legal action unless the classes stop.

The lessons are funded by a $533,000, three-year grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes Asthanga yoga. Some schools began classes last month and others will begin holding them in January.

The classes involve traditional eastern breathing techniques and poses. The district chooses teachers and sets the curriculum while the foundation trains the teachers.

The district, which serves students from kindergarten to sixth grade, has removed any religious content from the twice-weekly classes, Baird said.

“I think that they really would like to think that, but I don’t think that, in actuality, it has been done,” said Mary Eady, who removed her son from the classes. “There’s really a lot of unease among a lot of parents.”

Read more.

First defendant sentenced in FAMU hazing death

From the Associated Press:

(ORLANDO, Fla.) — The first of a dozen defendants to be sentenced in last year’s hazing death of a Florida A&M drum major avoided jail time when he received his punishment Monday, but he will spend more than two years under close supervision.

Brian Jones was given six months of community control, which strictly limits his freedom with measures including an ankle monitor and frequent check-ins with probation officials. Following that, the 23-year-old from Parrish, Fla., will serve another two years of probation. He’s also required to perform 200 hours of community service.

Judge Marc Lubet said Jones’s role in the hazing death of Robert Champion was relatively minimal and that Jones did not beat or hit Champion. Champion died last November after being beaten by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game. “This young man’s part in this horrible act … as compared with many others from what I’ve seen is minimal,” Lubet said. “It was an isolated incident in this man’s life for which he’s shown remorse.”

Read more.

Here comes more grade inflation!

Georgia officials are working on a plan to fund state colleges not based on enrollment, but on outcomes. Schools would be rewarded for student success and high graduation rates. All well and good, I suppose, but it’s easy for me to see pressure being put on professors to give students passing grades whether they deserve them or not. This has been  happening over the past few decade, but this effort seems like it will accelerate the trend.

Will success=failure? 

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Georgia is writing a plan that would drastically change the way it funds public colleges, tying the money to student success and graduation rates, not enrollment.

Starting with the 2015 fiscal year the amount of money colleges receive would be determined mainly by how well students progress through college and the number of degrees awarded. Many details still need to be finalized, but a group appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal signed off on a draft framework Monday.

The state is emphasizing graduation rates because projections show about 60 percent of all jobs by 2020 will require education after high school. Only 42 percent of Georgia’s adults currently possess a college degree or certificate.

Read more.