Blackface Performances are No Laughing Matter

A video is making its way across the blogosphere of a group called the Jackson Jive, that performed a Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 tribute on an Australian variety show called Hey, Hey, It’s Saturday.  American jazz musician Harry Connick, Jr. was a guest judge on the show and spoke out against the performance, giving them a “0” and then telling them why. In his explanation he communicated how hard America has worked to eliminate images that make Black Americans look like buffoons, and in his country, this show would be off the air.

Kudos to Harry Connick, Jr. for saying what needs to be said and communicating in a very accessible way, why these images are wrong. Later in the show, the host stated that this same group had done the same performance on the show 20 years ago, which is the saddest part of this incident.

I do not understand why people cannot seem to figure out why Blackface performances, also known as minstrelsy are offensive.  Let me be really clear about it.  It is the humiliation of Black peformers like Bert Williams who were capable of much more, but reduced to being the butt of the joke, literally and figuratively for the pleasure of whites, most of whom at that time believed that Blacks were less than human.  Blackface performance is an assault on the dignity of the collective consciousness of America in general and on the Black community specifically.

Having visited Australia, I am not surprised that this type of show exists. They trot out their Aborigines (native populations) on the docks of Sydney and allow tourists to take photos with them as if they are chattel.  In a city where you are hard pressed to find Aborigines within the city limits (Sydney is sprawling), the only representations of the original inhabitants are for entertainment  and moneymaking purposes. No, I’m not surprised that this would happen in Australia or any other place where there has never been a civil rights movement. That includes Europe for all of you that are dying to go there, but that’s another post.

Having said that, Harry Connick, Jr. stepped up and said what needs to be said, like many before him.  Unfortunately, his words cut deeply because there is a generation of young people and some old (Flavor Flav anyone), who act like modern day minstrels (Kanye West, anyone?).  Yes, I said it and I mean it.  Spike Lee hit the nail on the head with his film Bamboozled, which many Black folks failed to see.  What really makes me mad is that their isn’t some white overseer standing over them making them dance.  We are doing it to ourselves in various forms including reality television, some hip-hop culture comedy, and dare say it, network television (BET anyone?).

Can we really be mad at the Jackson Jive who are still comfortable performing the same heinous act 20 years later, when so many of us willingly perpetuate denigrating images of Blacks – Tyler Perry, anyone? Yes, I said that too.

As Fannie Lou Hamer said, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of the same old thing. White folks need to commit to memory that Blackface is not funny. Black folks need to get a memory and a conscious to remember why we should be careful about how we represent ourselves. There are people that thrive off of our continued subjugation in fantasy and reality and there are consequences to every misguided action that you make. The Jackson Jive is one of them.

Harry Connick, Jr., a white man, said that if he had known that this was going to be a part of the show, he would have declined to participate. What are you willing to give up to eliminate damaging images of Blacks in the media?

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of She serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @ntellectual.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s