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People In Blackface Are Making Headlines Again This Halloween Season

September 1927: American stage and film performer Al Jolson wearing blackface make-up in the first talkie film 'The Jazz Singer.' Historically, blackface emerged in the mid-19th century, representing a combination of put-down, fear and morbid fascination with black culture. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

September 1927: American stage and film performer Al Jolson wearing blackface make-up in the first talkie film ‘The Jazz Singer.’ Historically, blackface emerged in the mid-19th century, representing a combination of put-down, fear and morbid fascination with black culture. (credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

roy_melony 300 Melony Roy
Melony Roy is the Social Media editor for KYW Newsradio 1060,...
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By Social Media Editor Melony Roy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Social media is still reacting to former “Dancing With the Stars” pro-turned-actress Julianne Hough dressing up as Crazy Eyes from the hit series “Orange is the New Black” in blackface, and the Massachusetts duo dressed up as George Zimmerman and slain teen Trayvon Martin complete with bloody hoodie and blackface.

In spite of the historic outrage over the issue, people are still wearing blackface as part of their Halloween costume. Dr. Andre Carrington, an Assistant Professor of African-American Literature at Drexel University, says, “People think ignorance is still an excuse for doing the wrong thing.”

Although the practice is often defended as one that brings an injustice to light, Carrington believes reducing somebody’s identity to a representation of the color of their skin is not a sign of empathy or compassion.

“If those incidents of racial injustice don’t mean to you what they mean to people who are injured by them, then using social media is another occasion to do the thing that white people — who should know better — have always done to black people,” Carrington says. “The fact that that [it] continues to go on signals a basic error in the mindset that goes on to something like putting on a costume. Putting on someone’s identity, putting the color of skin on your face is in the minds of some people a form of entertainment. And often times, we hear [it’s] somehow a weird sign of respect or it’s ironically making fun of racism.”

Hear the entire interview with Dr. Andre Carrington in this CBS Philly podcast:

The history of blackface dates all the way back to slavery. “Ideas just based on the notion that black people didn’t exist for ourselves but that we existed for white people’s pleasure and leisure and entertainment — and it’s that history that makes blackface so troubling when it goes on today,” says Carrington.

He says dressing up as a member of the opposite race definitely has a stronger meaning for people of color.

“If a black person puts on whiteface, that doesn’t have the same history of betrayal, and injury, and ignorance that white people putting on blackface has,” says Carrington. “It doesn’t have an equivalent meaning to white people in history that blackface has to black people.”