NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There’s yet another blackface controversy.
This time, the upscale clothing line Gucci is apologizing after pictures of a sweater hit social media.
The use of blackface is a painful, and many say racist, part of America’s past, but as we are learning the offensive images are still with us.
Gucci pulled the controversial sweater off the market. The turtleneck, once pulled up, resembles blackface.
Web Extra: Maurice DuBois Reports On Blackface On CBS Sunday Morning
The controversy comes after Virginia’s attorney general admitted wearing dark makeup in 1980 to look like a rapper, and Virginia’s governor is still under fire for photos posted on his social media yearbook.
Blackface has a long, disturbing history. In the 18030s, white actors in minstrel shows would paint their faces black with burnt cork or greasepaint.
“White performers blacking up their face and caricaturing African-Americans, looking at them as lazy, unintelligent,” said Dwandalyn Reece, a curoator at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. “Certain stereotyples like the Mammy figure, Uncle Tom, the trickster.”
Reece explained why blackface is so offensive.
“I understand how people would think it is a form of flattery, it’s just a form of imitating somebody you admire. But it’s knowing the history that really makes a difference, and how painful these images were for African-Americans and what it set off in this country as a a way of stereotyping and dehumanizing people based on the color of their skin,” Reece said.
Al Jolson made blackface mainstream in Hollywood when he starred in the 1927 movie “The Jazz Singer.” The practice continued well into the 20th century. Popular entertainers like Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and even Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd “blacked up,” reported CBS2’s Maurice DuBois.
DuBois spoke with Eric Lott, a professor at the graduate center of the City University of New York for a CBS Sunday Morning interview.
He acknowledged the stereotypes created on screen are still with us today.
“This makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it” DuBois asked.
“Absolutely. It does make me feel uncomfortable to talk about these things because they are incredibly disturbing and revolting,” Lott said. “It is too easy, I think, simply to dismiss the history of blackface as ‘that racist stuff,’ and, you know, ‘most of us are better than that.’ I don’t think most of us are better than that. We are that. That’s what we are.
Even black performers like Bert Williams performed in blackface to make audiences feel superior.
“The mask, I think, says to white audiences, you have nothing to fear. Go ahead, enjoy yourself. To black audiences I think any number of things might have been communicated, like, can you believe that these people are making me put on this mask so they will be entertained? You know, in other words, there`s a kind of winking to the black audience. But it gave black performers access to the stage,” Lott said.
Even black actors performed in blackface during the vaudeville era and on Broadway.
Historians say it was to make white audiences feel superior.