(Aug. 31) It is reasonable to criticize Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey for doing a skit in blackface in college. It’s also reasonable, given that this happened half a century ago, to neither belabor the criticism nor demand her resignation.

Some racial offenses merit commonsense statutes of limitations, especially when taking into account the severity (or lack thereof) of the offense, the youth of the offender, the cultural milieu at the time, and, of course, the subsequent half-century of behavior of the individual involved. If someone is to be adjudged harshly 52 years later for an offensive-but-common practice in Alabama sororities in the 1960s without any consideration of these other factors, then we as a society have eliminated all appreciation for, and encouragement of, personal maturation, character development, and redemption.

Blackface minstrelsy is clearly demeaning towards black people. Period. Even half a century ago, civil rights activists were denouncing it, and those who participated in it should have known better.

But it also was a common, accepted part of entertainment for nearly a century, engaged in by presidents, by generally well-motivated actors like Bing Crosby who were insistently and famously integrationist, and sometimes by black performers themselves. A college girl in Alabama doing a sorority skit in blackface in 1967 was quite likely acting from ignorance more than meanness — and, again, people mature, social mores change, and the sense of what is merely in bad taste versus what is unforgivable evolves as well…

The difference between an undergraduate in Alabama in 1967 and a medical student in Virginia in 1984 — as was Virginia’s now-Gov. Ralph Northam when he wore blackface — is significant. Even then, though, as in all race-related incidents, context and subsequent behavior should be considered important….

[The rest of the column, with careful consideration of the milieu at Auburn a half-century ago, is at this link.]


Tags: , , , ,