White South Africans can blackface

"Blackfacing is the 'weird' side of lynching"

L.I.S.A .: Mr Della, Mr Finzsch, last week you wrote an open letter of protest or a statement to the program directorate of the First German Television, among others. The background is that the presenter appeared as a South African on the ARD entertainment program "Understand Fun" last Saturday, namely as a black South African. What is the problem with this that you call "blackfacing"? What does “blackfacing” actually mean?

Finzsch: Historians understand blackface as a form of make-up and disguise used by white people to represent a black or African-American person. The practice spread rapidly in the United States in the first half of the 19th century, spreading racial stereotypes outside the regions where slavery was practiced. These stereotypes include the image of the “poor but happy black man on the plantation” or the cliché of the semi-civilized cultural impostor who only pretends to have adopted the canon of values ​​and behavior from the West. By the middle of the 19th century, the Blackface Minstrel Show established as a national art form that featured certain fixed set pieces and people. Characters who typically appeared in these minstrel shows were Bones, Tambo, an interlocutor whose character traits were just as stereotypical as their names.

The white actors who embodied these characters spoke an exaggerated form of the Afro-American dialect. Their makeup and their presentation in the programs gave them huge eyes, very broad noses and thick lips that always smiled. They usually wore shoes that were way too big (like circus clowns) and supposedly ate possums or raccoons. Minstrel characters were often described in animalistic terms with “wool” instead of hair, “bleat” for speaking, and their children were referred to as “dark pups”. The stereotypes included an allegedly innate musicality and aptitude for dancing. Brother Tambo played the tambourine and Brother Bones the bone castagnets. Both characters, who were supposed to portray slaves or ex-slaves, were ignorant and unable to express themselves, which is why something bad happened to them in all performances: they were cheated, injured or run over.

Their alleged stupidity and lack of culture was underlined by the interlocutor, who tried to speak aristocratic English and used a more extensive vocabulary. The racist joke arose from the misunderstandings Tambo and Bones had in conversation with the interlocutor.

The majority of the audience to watch these productions were white male working class. Many of them were Irish or other immigrant groups. Starting in the USA, the Minstrel Show spread in Great Britain and also in Germany.

The stereotypes reproduced in these shows not only played a role in deepening and spreading racist images, attitudes and perceptions. They coexisted with the widespread practice of lynching, which was also practiced in the northern and western United States. Blackfacing is, so to speak, the "funny" side of lynching, which was used wherever African Americans exposed these stereotypes by being economically successful or being able to accumulate special educational capital.

Blackface and minstrel shows continued into the 20th century. Ironically, it was the "modern media" of radio and later television that continued this practice. The practice became so popular that more and more amateurs staged these shows, which is why a number of relevant guides came out in the 1920s. Blackface became unpopular with the start of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The appropriation, exploitation and assimilation of black culture in the USA did not stop there.