A friend of a friend dressed in blackface for Halloween. Here's why that's not okay.
A quick review: blackface was used by whites to disseminate crude stereotypes of black people that persist to this day. Catch up here. Originating in the early nineteenth century, the practice continued deep into the 20th century. Al Jolson sold a whole lot of records.
In the image, which you can see here, the guy's wearing an oversized hoodie and a gold chain. It's reasonable to interpret this costume as a stereotype of a black man. [It's taking a mature restraint and a late hour to keep me from extrapolating the alternate Yankees fitted into a comparison tangent about gangsta rap vis-a-vis the 'buck' stereotype that blackface performances cultivated.]
Halloween costumes for anyone out of high school tend to be outsized attempts at 'sexy', 'scary', or 'funny'. What, then, in addition to all the miserable historical connotations, does wearing blackface for Halloween imply black people are? Hilarious, fearsome, and/or seductive, unless your party is on an island far away from mainstream culture. Looking at the costume, the first two adjectives seem more likely.
One big problem with blackface in this once-a-year Halloween getup is even more simple, though:
By donning someone's race and skin color as a costume - and by saying as much - you are claiming that an entire heritage is as simple to adopt as slathering on shoe polish. [Or flour, really - if I dressed as an Italian for Halloween, that would be equally simple on this level.] When you consider that black heritage is one pitted against oppression, lynching, slavery, and a culture that, yes, employs racial stereotypes propagated by blackface minstrelsy to this day, it's remarkably offensive even before addressing the timeline context.
Here's the sad connection between the OG blackface performer and a kid in upstate New York proclaiming 'fucking BLACK' as a costume, as stated by Eric Lott here:
I think the stereotypes that emerge from the 19th century minstrel show circulate to the present day and are crucial in defining white people's sense of who black people are, I'm sad to say.
Folks, put the burnt cork down and go as one of the obvious ones next year.