4 Comments on “Billy Crystal’s Blackface at 2012 Oscars: Not Okay”

  1. Jennie

    While I agree with most everything you said with regard to race, black face and so forth, I must disagree with you in regards to white people who choose to have dreadlocks. I myself had locks for 4 years & never did I choose that hairstyle with the intent to appropriate/get something for nothing, gain an advantage from a culture when I didn’t endure the hardships that came with that culture’s history. Not only did I not have the intent of doing those things… I in fact did not do/receive those things/alleged benefits for nothing.

    Additionally, I did not have a lack of respect for any other culture of people (in this post black people) in choosing that style for my hair. I chose to style my hair in that manner for purely spiritual purposes and because I knew that a multitude of people would have strong views about my choice I spent over a year researching and studying the matter before making my decision about it. In that research I found that there were many people to have dreadlocks well before the first black people were sporting them whether those people be Rasta or Mau Mau or any other black culture known to have dreadlocks. Though all cultures which have sported dreadlocks did so completely separate of one another – if we were to go by timeline anyone who is not from a particular sect of Indian/Hindu heritage or who is not a Nazarite has appropriated by having said hair style. (if we are to go by your statements which insinuate that merely by default of choosing something that is associated with an oppressed history within a culture that is not ours we are in fact appropriating, disrespecting, getting something for nothing etc.)

    Additionally, I will add that white people with dreadlocks are not (in all cases) trivializing a cultural identity by making it a mere costume any more than the people of same said culture are who have dreadlocks when those people can’t tell you an ounce of the history of the dreadlocks in the first place. After having been challenged on many occasions by people of color and non on having dreadlocks, it was easy to see that they more often than not were merely choosing their views based on some sort of hive mind mentality that had them reacting in the same way they would assume their peers would expect them to rather than coming from an informed position. 99% of the people who came to me didn’t know one bit of the history of dreadlocks & when I responded with years worth of research and information behind me they were dumbfounded by their own lack of awareness and knowledge & ran quickly from the conversation so as to not make themselves look just that much more ignorant.

    Though you are right in many cases I am sure – my point is that not in all cases does your argument apply that someone who chooses to do something that a particular culture is known for or started is appropriating or getting something for nothing & to generalize that is the case is no less stereotyping the cultural group you intend to be helping than those you are attempting to protect that group from.

    It would be like saying that by being fashion sensible all metrosexuals are somehow attempting to gain something they don’t deserve from homosexuals or that by wearing their pants below their asses people are attempting to disrespect the prison culture and gain benefit from a culture they themselves did not endure the hardships of or that merely enjoying music that almost every American musician makes today we are disrespecting the Latin cultures from which those beats originated.

    It not only doesn’t make sense because every culture borrows from others in both good ways and bad but also because to stereotype groups into particular actions as I have done with gays, prisoners or Latin people is no less offensive and is painting them into the same corner that outward and open racism does. It is like black people telling each other they aren’t black enough or masculine identified lesbians telling one another they’ve lost their “butch” card. Who are we to say that one person or another or one group or another has to behave within a particular box of what we consider to be appropriate in accordance with what we deem acceptable for that race, gender, culture or group? Not to mention the backward logic that someone from a privileged group in society is somehow benefiting from copying/appropriating etc. from a culture which is not at that same level of privilege. What benefit would a white person receive from attempting to do something that is stereo-typically black? Why would someone from a clearly privileged class with regard to society choose to appropriate something that would take them down a notch on the social ladder? That is in fact what would be the case with someone who has dreadlocks. I know because I was one of those people for 4 years and endured the results of my choice on many levels. To say that someone of a privileged group benefits from taking on specific traits or customs of a group that is treated by society as less than they are just doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying that someone chooses to be gay – why would anyone choose such a thing if they were already benefiting from the privilege of being straight? So now not only would they be choosing to perform an action which is difficult and against their nature but they are getting put into a negative position in society and somehow it is a benefit? I don’t see the logic.

    I would have agreed with your argument about dreadlocks, appropriation and costuming if you had added something about people who do it without being informed with regard to what they are doing rather than generalizing and assuming that we all knew that is what you meant. Because those who are not informed when making those choices are no doubt benefiting whether intentionally or not by simply perpetuating the stereotypes and by exaggerating/costuming a culture of people which serves only to make them look less than, justify others disrespecting of that culture & not honor the fullness of who they are & therefore perpetuating their position on a lower rung of the societal ladder by (for lack of a better word) minstrelizing them. I see your point and you are generally right but you unfortunately make your point by generalizing white people & their assumed knowledge/intent and stereotyping other cultures into a corner or box which I view as no less oppressive than what you seem to be intending to save our society from in the first place.

  2. futuretalk

    The most interesting point in my reading of your comment was that people with privilege gaining an advantage from an oppressed culture doesn’t make sense, because adopting elements of that culture would involve a stepping down from the position of privilege.

    My opinion is, while white people and other privileged groups enjoy dabbling in the appropriation of culture from other groups, they never actually give up their privilege. I’m sure you encountered plenty of negativity while wearing dreadlocks, but when you cut them off, you went back to normal white woman status. The “advantage” that you gained in the interim wasn’t about social privilege. It was about your identity. From my understanding of what you said, you used that hairstyle to enhance your spiritual life. That is the advantage you gained, and any ignorant comments from strangers didn’t take away from that.

    Insofar as cultural body image practices are appropriated, they are largely functioning in the same way. The problem, in my opinion, is that this takes away from the power of the symbolism. Natural hair in 2012 might be nothing more than a fashion statement, but often times it is an affirmation of self-respect. And since white people have so many ways to affirm their self-respect, and even more fashion options, I don’t think it’s respectful to appropriate from the limited options available to oppressed groups.

  3. Ellington3

    Thanks for your video.
    I did not watch the Oscars but I did see Billy Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. clip.
    I found it rather odd to say the least that he did it.
    I understand the idea of appropriation of someone’s culture and experience and when I see (mostly white) people donning black face, usually to do some really janky impression of a black person or a black celebrity it often gets my back up.
    I also feel the same way when I see men gay or straight do drag queen impersonations of famous (often tragic) women or just their idea of a woman. Why is that acceptable?
    To be honest it has always bothered me the way that blackface does, but because I mentioned it once to a group in a discussion I was dismissed as homophobic (they did not even bother to answer my question).
    I was asking a question and gave the blackface analogy and comparison and I truly wanted to know and to understand why that situation is different.
    Because as a black woman I loath black face and I do not find the drag queen expression of femaleness to be entertaining or funny I do not see it as a compliment as drag queens seem to glorify all that is “wrong” with women in how we (women) are presented for the male gaze (big boobs, tons of makeup, ridiculous fashions, and hair)
    Please enlighten me.
    Making fun or light of an “other”while being an “other’ to me is not right.
    I am truly being earnest in my query.
    Thanks ever so for reading

    Pax : )

    1. futuretalk

      Hmmmm.

      Honeslty, I don’t know. I mean, you’re right, it’s basically the same thing. A dominant group (whites with blackface, males with drag) trying to define the identity of an oppressed group. There are two differences that come to mind, though:

      1) Audience. Blackface is usually a white performing for other whites. In this way black people are denied the right to define themselves. This is harmful no matter the intent of the performer, and all the worse if stereotypes are perpetuated as they usually are. The only drag shows I’ve been to were for an audience that was mixed in every way possible–race, gender, sexual orientation, and so forth. I think it would be different if a man dressed up as a woman to try to define womanhood to an audience of other men (which… now that I think about it… is exactly what happened with the original “Shit Girls Say” videos). I’m not saying this makes everything okay, but it’s something to consider.

      2) Privilege of the performer. Yes, in terms of sexism if it’s a male performing in drag, he has institutional power that women do not. However, if he’s a black, male-bodied, female identifying performer who is attracted to men… perhaps she is using drag to celebrate herself or the complexity of her identity… and that can probably happen without taking power away from female-bodied women.

      I haven’t really thought about this before, but those are just my initial thoughts. You bring up good points!

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