All posts for the month October, 2014

Halloween: Fun for whom? (Triple Participation)

Published October 31, 2014 by djlwsu


The inconvenient truth about your halloween chocolate and forced child labor

By “Rage against the Minivan”

Last year I wrote a ridiculous post about deciding on a new place to buy my coffee . . . a place where the prices were really low because the store relied on children to work for little money.  My intention was to point out how selfish it sounds for someone to willingly turn a blind eye to social injustices just because we want to pay less for something we like, and how shallow our justifications sound.  I used coffee as an example because it’s one of those indulgences that people claim they can’t live without.  Shortly after, I wrote a post detailing the human rights abuses involved in the manufacturing of most of the commercial Halloween candy we purchase this time of year. I’m posting again, because I think it’s an important message. If you read this last year, scroll down to the bottom for an update on Hershey’s and Nestle. And please consider sharing this so others can know the truth.  I’ve included a comprehensive guide to buying ethical Halloween treats over at Babble.
The picture below is a photo of a young child gathering pods to harvest cocoa beans.  There are hundreds of thousands of children in West Africa who do this work.  Young children. Children who should be attending school and having a childhood. And they are working for most of the mainstream chocolate providers in the USA.    A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture about cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions.  Some of them have been taken from their families, or sold as servants.  U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations since they don’t own them.  This includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the US division of Cadbury . . . who collectively represent pretty much every snack-size candy bar that will be available in stores this Halloween.  

Did your child's Halloween chocolate come at the expense of another child?
The connection between most major candy bar manufacturers and child slavery is one of the world’s best kept secrets.  It has been going on for years, but I only learned about it last year.  The US government is currently being sued by the International Labor Rights Fund for failing to enforce laws prohibiting the import of products made with child labor, and the chocolate industry has failed to meet numerous deadlines set by Congress for regulating.  A few major chocolate companies have done a great job in the last year with some smoke-and-mirror campaigns . . . either offering an obscure fair-trade chocolate bar or making a show of giving to charities that support farmers. But these actions do not change the fact that they don’t want to take the necessary steps to avoid the human rights abuse of children.

But honestly, what concerns me even more is that we, as consumers, are not demanding that this be stopped.  People continue to buy chocolate even after learning about the harm to children in Africa.  I’ve heard excuses from people in my own life that sound pretty similar to the ones I made in the coffee post.  We rationalize that we can’t afford fair-trade.  We joke about how addicted we are.  We justify that we can’t change everything.  And I think secretly, we don’t relate because these are kids in a far-off country, and not our own.  It’s okay as long as we don’t have to see it happening right in front of us.

Did you know thousands of children are trafficked each year to farm cocoa for American chocolate companies?

Well, I’m here to ruin it for you.  Now you know.  We can’t keep looking away.  If we choose willful ignorance on this one, then we are no better than the people who are directly forcing children to work.  I’ve embedded a BBC documentary about this issue below.   Even the first ten-minute segment is eye-opening, but the whole thing will wreck you . . . and you will be better for it.  Bookmark this and watch it later.  Watch it with your kids.  Jafta saw this last year and despite his love of chocolate, he is the most fervent fair trade advocate I know after seeing this.  Share it with your friends.  Blog about it.  We’re breaking up with commercial chocolate, or buying fair trade. I hope you will, too.

On January 31st 2012, in what was likely a response to the growing bad press about child labor practices, Hershey’s made an announcement regarding child labor in their supply line. You can read the entire statement here. Two points worth noting:

“Over the next five years, The Hershey Company will expand and accelerate programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa and continuing to work with experts in agriculture, community development and government to achieve progress with cocoa farmers and their families”.

While $10 million dollars over the course of 5 years sounds like a lot of money, it is still a far cry from what has been recommended by the Payson Center for International Development at Tulane University’s report on Oversight of Public and Private Initiatives to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor in the Cocoa Sector, an independent international academic study that offered recommendations for reducing child labor in the chocolate industry. Hershey’s claims they want to comply, but to do so it really should be closer to $8 million a year.  Also, this is still not a commitment to going fair-trade, or any other third-party mechanism for assuring just labor practices.  It’s a step in the right direction, but I won’t be buying Hershey’s until I’m convinced that they are making real and drastic measures to cut out labor abuses, rather than trying to smooth over some bad press.

Later this year, U.S. consumers will be able to purchase Hershey’s Bliss® products with 100 percent cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms have met comprehensive sustainability standards that protect the environment and ensure the safety and well-being of workers, their families and communities.”

Again, it’s great that Hershey’s is creating a fair-trade line, but why not apply this standard to all of their products?  Fair trade shouldn’t be a specialty item, and many international rights groups are still skeptical. You can read more about that here.

Now let’s look at the strides Nestle has made in 2012:

Earlier this year, Nestle announced they were submitting to a study by the Fair Labor Association to determine if child labor actually did exist in their supply chain. This was a bit of a PR move since Nestle signed the Harkin Engel Protocol and vowed to remedy the child labor issues in their company over ten years ago. Very little effort was made by the companies involved which resulted in only about 5% improvement over the last 10 years. So I’m slightly unimpressed that they are now making a public show of “getting to the bottom of this”, but again – it’s a step.

The findings of the Fair Labor Association?  There is indeed child labor in the Nestle supply chain. Reuters reported: “Child labour is still widespread on Ivory Coast cocoa farms supplying Nestle, an investigation by a workers’ rights group has found, prompting the world’s biggest food group to pledge a redoubling of efforts to stamp out the practice.”  Nestle has made several public statements about their commitment to stopping this and their strategies include producing an illustrated guide to the supplier code and educating their farmers not to employ children. Still, Nestle is not willing to submit to fair trade certification, which would be the best way to insure compliance. The International Labor Rights Fund names Nestle as one of the top 14 companies behind the worst labor abuses.

The bottom line is this: profit margins are likely going to take a dip if these companies really step it up, and it’s likely that chocolate prices will go up, too. But I think that we, as a society, need to be willing to see this through, even if it costs us something. Because no bar of chocolate is worth robbing a child of their education and childhood.

Buy fair trade. Don't support child labor for cheaper chocolate this Halloween. Or ever.


How To Celebrate Halloween Without Being A Sexist

POSTED ON OCTOBER 24, 2013 AT 12:32 PM UPDATED: JULY 17, 2014 AT 3:17 PM

halloween costumes


Halloween is a holiday with pitfalls for feminists: We want to simultaneously encourage the rejection of outfits that reduce women to nothing more than sex objects, while also respecting the women who may choose to err on the more risque side when they trick-or-treat. That line can be difficult to walk, and even harder to explain to people who aren’t well-versed in slut shaming and women’s empowerment. So here’s a simple guide to how to have a feminist Halloween without missing out on the fun:

Why Women Shouldn’t Be Reduced To Sexy Objects

At this point, it’s common knowledge that Halloween is the holiday that inspires increasingly ridiculous promiscuous costumes. Every year, there are countless articles devoted to rounding up the top offenders — like sexy Mr. Potato Head, a sexy remote control, sexy Big Bird, a sexy nun, and a sexy hamburger. It’s often difficult to find any store-bought Halloween costumes intended for women that aren’t tight, skimpy, and designed to play up her “sex appeal.”

This trend is trickling down to children’s costumes, too — inciting criticism for contributing to the over-sexualization of young girls. Walmart sparked controversy this year for stocking a “naughty leopard” costume for toddlers.

It’s not hard to see why feminists would protest this type of objectification. Women are more than their bodies and their sex appeal, and the “feminine” version of a costume shouldn’t automatically have to emphasize cleavage. Feminists have worked hard to make the point that women are just people — and if they want to dress up as a hamburger, they can wear the same kind of hamburger costume as a man would, without feeling the need to show a lot of leg.

Why You Shouldn’t ‘Slut Shame’ Women In Halloween Costumes

While it’s important to recognize that women don’t need to be sexy to have a good Halloween, it’s also worth acknowledging that some women simply like looking a little steamy, and that’s fine too. Demonstrating sexuality can actually be really empowering for women when they feel they can do it safely and without pressure or judgement. There are three things that society needs to understand, though, in order for women to get to this point:

1. “Sexy” doesn’t have a singular definition. Is cleavage sexy? Sure, for you. But not for everyone. Different people think different things are sexy and that’s okay. Your judgement of what’s attractive isn’t always someone else’s.

2. A woman who puts on a provocative outfit is not asking for moral judgement. There’s nothing morally wrong with looking good or dressing in revealing clothes. A woman who does so isn’t s slut, she isn’t necessarily sleeping around and, if she is, that’s fine too. You can’t determine who a person is from what they wear.

3. Being sexy does not equal an invitation for sexual advances. A woman wearing a sexy outfit is not ‘asking for it.’ Period.

Just like there are round-ups of “sexy” costumes every year, each Halloween also brings the inevitable rush of articles lamenting our society’s lack of a moral compass and imploring slutty women to cover themselves up. That’s not exactly the right approach to the holiday, either.

This doesn’t mean you need to be a feminist killjoy who can’t enjoy Halloween. It’s very possible — easy, even — to navigate these issues and to have a more progressive holiday. First of all, if you’ve decided you don’t want to dress up as a sexy object, you have a responsibility to remember that you don’t have the license to look down on other women who make different choices. You’re not morally superior to the “sexy” hamburger, and you don’t really have the right to police her expressions of sexuality.

If you are looking for non-sexy Halloween costumes, the project ‘Take Back Halloween‘ has some great suggestions. And here’s a fun song that gives some good suggestions for creative costumes that don’t involve showing a lot of skin:

If you want to look sexy, well, the world is your oyster.

Ther are other ways, too, to ensure you’re not using Halloween as an excuse to perpetuate stereotypes or undermine progressive ideals. Every year, some partygoers inevitably don costumes that rely on racial stereotypes, and controversy always emerges after some people decide it’s a great idea to dress up in blackface. There’s no reason the holiday needs to rely on offensive depictions of people from other races, cultures, or sexual identities — take a few minutes to read through the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” campaign from students at Ohio University and make sure you avoid it. And don’t perpetuate class stereotypes, either.


Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?


Halloween is a holiday about glorifying all things spooky and scary, a day to dress up in a costume for the sake of having fun.

Unfortunately, sometimes the “fun” comes at the expense of others, and the scariest thing is how rampant racism is on Halloween.

Before you give me an eye roll and say, “Relax, it’s just a joke,” listen up. Because I used to be you.

If you’re anything like me, then you go to your nearest Halloween store and innocently pick out a costume, never with the foul intention of hurting anyone.

But regardless of whether your costume selection was done with innocent intentions or not, your costume can still perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmas, which then welcomes more aggressive racist attitudes.

That is: Even if you don’t think you’re vehemently racist, you can still perpetuate racism.

For example, in the past, I was a “Sexy Indian Girl” and a Geisha. I picked these costumes out because—well—I thought I’d look hot in them, and isn’t that what Halloween is all about for us ladies? (Sigh. One topic at a time.)

Why would I ever have thought about the implications that my costume would have on Native American or Asian women? Why would I think that deeply about the implications of a costume?

Well, it’s simple: Because these implications don’t affect me.

And it never occurred to me that an establishment would openly sell racist (or otherwise offensive) costumes. Why would they?

But if you’re anything like how I used to be, I have some news for you.

Racism is deeply ingrained into our history.

And “pointing out racism is not a witch hunt or an attempt to make you feel bad.” It’s done to better our society and ourselves.

Many racially, ethnically, and culturally based costumes are intended to be one of two things – humorous or erotic. Just check out which categories these costumes are listed under on costume sites: Funny and Sexy.

The question is: What about these groups of people makes them exotic or humorous?

And the simple answer is: Nothing.

But our society equates Whiteness with normalcy, and therefore everyone outside of that category is foreign, weird, or joke-worthy – perfect for a costume.

And since manufacturers don’t put much thought into how offensive costumes can be, this year let’s try asking ourselves some thought provoking questions before purchasing or making our costumes to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and racist attitudes.

1. Is Your Costume Racially, Ethnically, or Culturally Based?

If it is, then it’s probably racist.

And if you’re thinking “I don’t see race,” then consider yourself a very privileged individual who has never had the misfortune of experiencing or witnessing acts of racism.

Check your privilege.

And if you still “don’t see race,” just read the names of the costumes that you are considering purchasing. Because I assure you that manufacturers make it very clear:

Question why you are choosing to dress up as another culture, ethnicity, or race.

What message are you sending?

What is your intent by wearing that costume? to have a good time? to be funny? sexy?

And if so, at whose expense?

2. Do You Belong to That Group of People?

If your answer is no, remember that you can’t just borrow someone else’s culture or race for a day. It doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps unlike yourself, you don’t have to live with the stereotypes and stigmas associated with that “costume.” Because you can take it off.

But for many people, it’s not just a costume. It’s their everyday lives.

For example, you can wear an Illegal Alien costume, but you’ll never have to go through the emotional journey of the 11.7 million undocumented (not illegal) individuals in the United States. Your costume is making light of the difficult lifestyle and journey of undocumented immigrants.

“Relax, it’s not like I’m doing blackface.”

Well, I’d like to think that the majority of us understand how deeply offensive and racist it is to do something like Blackface for Halloween (or ever). But the truth is, Halloween has brought out the worst in many people:

I can keep going, but I think we get the point.

And the point is: Don’t be fooled.

Blackface isn’t the only thing that is racist.

Wearing a Lil’ Gangsta Hat or Ghetto Fab Wig is equally racist.

The natural hair movement rejects European beauty standards that have been force-fed on People of Color, and particularly African-Americans, for centuries.

So while you may think it’s “fun” to wear an afro or locs for Halloween, your silky straight hair will never be deemed as “unpresentable,” and you’ll never be forbidden to wear the hair that naturally grows out your head to school like seven-year-old Tiana Parker.

How will locs and afros ever be seen as “presentable” when we are making a mockery out of the hair by selling and wearing them as costumes?

By wearing cultures that aren’t yours as a costume, you are subjecting those very people to the threats associated with those stereotypes and belittling their experiences.

If you are a part of the group of people your costume is intended on representing, you can still be guilty of perpetuating a negative stereotype and opening the door to racist attitudes.

Make sure ask yourself how your costume connects to the larger issue of identity and inequality.

Are you, yourself, perpetuating a stereotype of your own race, ethnicity, or cultural background? If so, why? What are you saying with your costume?

3. Why Is Your Costume Funny or Sexy?

A harsh majority of humorous or erotic costumes are of marginalized and oppressed groups of people.

This is an action of taking advantage of people who are already in a marginalized position and continuously dehumanizing them.

When a costume’s “humor” or “sexiness” is solely based on race, ethnicity, or culture, those people’s human elements are being extracted for the sake of bringing us laughter or making us feel more “exotic.”

For example, Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented minorities in all of North America. The media has done a successful job at misrepresenting Native Americans and depicting them as only existing during Colonization and Western Expansion.

So it’s no wonder that so many individuals feel that a Native American costume can’t be offensive – because they’re non-existent!

But actually, there are 310 Indian reservations in the United States all consisting of different nations practicing different traditions.

And please don’t think that you’re paying homage to the Native American culture by wearing your mass-manufactured $29.99 costume one day out of the year.

It isn’t a sign of respect – just a lack of creativity and ignorance. There is a huge difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation.

Also think twice when you buy a Sexy Indian Girl costume because the fetishizing and eroticizing of Native American women doesn’t help the fact that 1 out of 3 Native women will experience rape in her lifetime.

Okay, so perhaps your costume isn’t hyper-sexualizing one group of people. But maybe your costume wins funniest costume or it’s getting the biggest laughs at the Halloween party.

Ever question why your costume is considered funny? Why are some costumes literally in the category of Funny?

As seen in the pictures of the Asian Man Costume or Mexican Man costume, light-skinned individuals are wearing the costume, a tradition I’ve seen all throughout my Halloween experiences.

Sometimes what makes a costume funny is the fact that a White individual is wearing another ethnicity or race. And let me tell you, that is straight racist.

Those ethnicities and races are not yours, so while you think it’s a funny costume, it’s other people’s lives you are wearing.

And sometimes it’s not only that someone is going outside of their race or culture for the sake of a good laugh, but it’s how exaggerated the costume (stereotype) is.

Like this Hey Amigo Mexican Costume.

When’s the last time you’ve seen an actual Mexican wearing a sombrero, pancho, and riding a donkey?

Oh right, never!

These are caricatures of people.

4. Would You Wear That Costume Around That Group of People?

If a Japanese family were to welcome you into their home, would you wear your Geisha costume? What about wearing your Arab Terrorist costume within a group of Muslim Americans?

I’m hoping that you would be at least a little hesitant to do such a thing since, ultimately, you should know that it’s disrespectful.

Halloween is not an exception.

It’s not the one day out of the year when you get to be disrespectful to others. It’s not a Get-Out-of-Cultural-Appropriation-Jail-Free Card.

It isn’t enough just to say that you’re not racist. Your actions have to reflect that, too.

Because we don’t live in a post-racial society.

As always, you should actively question and challenge many of our social norms, including the costumes that we deem acceptable.

Take responsibility for the messages that your costume can be sending out.

You’ll quickly realize how difficult picking out a non-offensive costume can be – which only speaks to how prevalent the problem is.

But if you’re like me and really want to stand out from the rest of your friends, then this may work in your favor.

We all know how played out many Halloween costumes can be, so challenge yourself this year.

Take this opportunity to be more creative and bring some originality to Halloween.

Last year, I used my newly cut hair to my advantage and was Mitt Romney – With His Binders Full of Women for Halloween. The best part of my costume was not only how much people loved it, but how it didn’t offend anyone!

Well—besides Mitt Romney and his binder full of misogyny—I mean women.

And if you don’t have it in you to be creative, you can always be a strip of bacon.

Kat Lazo is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a self-proclaimed social commentator, media critic, and overall, a woman who questions everything. Having studied Advertising and Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she’s ready to add some feminism to the ad world. Check out more of her writing at TheeKatsMeoww, watch her videos on YouTube, and follow on Twitter @TheeKatsMeowwFacebook and TumblrRead her articles here.


Halloween fun . . . at whose expense? (Double participation)

Published October 31, 2014 by djlwsu

There’s History Behind Those Halloween Blackface Fails

At one time, black and white performers wore blackface to caricature African Americans.

Posted: Oct. 30 2014 3:00 AM


Bert Williams and George WalkerPUBLIC DOMAIN/WIKIPEDIA

With Halloween approaching, we’ll soon see a rash of stories about young white college students who feel compelled to apologize for an unfortunate Instagram photo that depicts them in blackface at a campus party. The kind of real-life incidents that inspired the new film Dear White People.

Yet despite the ambivalence, awkwardness and, sometimes, revulsion that blackface continues to inspire in whites as well as blacks, there is very little public discussion of the historical contexts that led to the emergence of blackface minstrelsy as a most American form of popular culture.

new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art offers a contemporary assessment of blackface performance in the discovery of an untitled silent film that starred the biggest star of blackface, Bert Williams.

The first major black crossover star of the 20th century was a light-skinned black man, born in the Bahamas, who donned shoe polish for the desired effect of being clearly identified as a so-called darky. His popularity spoke volumes about the state of American popular culture at the time and mocks the hyperbole of those who would claim that any number of contemporary black comedians or reality-TV stars are blackface “minstrels.”

Blackface minstrelsy was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the late 19th century—the reality TV of its era—which, until the emergence of Williams and his partner George Walker (who was darker-skinned and didn’t apply face paint), was dominated by white men pretending to be “darkies.” To make clear the distinction, Williams and Walker billed themselves as “Two Real Coons.”

Onstage and on-screen, Williams’ humanity might have been limited to the mask he wore—Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” is a reminder that the mask was, in fact, the public face of blackness—but no such limits were placed on his talents. Finding his success before the emergence of “talkies”—motion pictures with sound—and at the nascent moment of sound recordings, Williams’ genius was in his movement, in the facial and physical gestures that approximated what his audiences perceived as authentically Negro.

Such genius is evident in Natural Born Gambler,a silent movie featuring Williams that has circulated on YouTube, and the just-discovered silent film featured in the MoMA exhibit.

The mask was a means for Williams and many black blackface performers to push back and reclaim the “darky” on their own terms—which they did in such a way that by the time Al Jolson starred in 1927’s The Jazz Singer, the first full-length talkie, his blackface performance was nothing but caricature.

The depictions slowly faded in popular culture—though they still made appearances in any number of cartoons well into the 20th century, and perhaps forced black performers like Lincoln “Stepin Fetchit” Perry and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson to overemphasize the physicality and sounds of blackness to make up for the absence of blackface. By the time of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s, Williams became largely forgotten or even actively ignored, as a reminder of the times when black performers didn’t have the freedom of expression that they had in later years. As Camille Forbes notes, “The artistry of his work—and the manner in which he had taken a stereotype and transformed it—took a backseat to the means in which he was compelled to present it.”

To be sure, there is ample reason now to indict those young white students who put on blackface to dress as Bey and Jay for Halloween, on the basis of their own ignorance. But that same ignorance is at work among those of us who dismiss the history of black blackface performers without fully understanding and appreciating the genius of performers like Bert Williams.


Don’t get what’s wrong with blackface? Here’s why it’s so offensive.

A photo shared on Instagram of a couple dressed like Ray and Janay RiceInstagram
 It’s no surprise at all that some of our fellow Americans dressed up (and dressed their children up!) like Ray and Janay Rice this month, or that they proudly shared their pictures on Instagram.

Of course they did.

In the weird world of adult Halloween, tackiness pegged to current events is the name of the game. So, this was as predictable as the availability of a “sexy Ebola nurse” getup.

Equally unsurprising: People from all corners of the internet agreed that the Rice costumes were, as Deadspin‘s Tom Ley put it, “the worst idea.” Commenters didn’t just criticize the insensitivity of the domestic abuse theme (Rice, of course, was kicked out of the NFL after he knocked his wife unconscious). They chastised the white revelers for painting their faces and bodies black to mimic the Rice’s darker skin.

To some of us, it’s obvious that wearing blackface is an offensive, bad idea.

People have even made very simple visual aids to communicate this.



This one gets into even more detail:



But the public service announcements haven’t worked. If this season’s costumes are any indication, a giant gulf remains between people who understand that blackface is in bad taste, or are willing to defer to black people who tell them so, and people who are still asking “But why?” (You know, the ones who are thinking as they read this, “You say it’s racist but I can tell you right now I’m not racist, so it’s fine if I wear it! Come on, get over it! Stop with the political correctness! I don’t understand how this is offensive! It’s a joke!”)

For the “why” crowd (and for anyone who feels moved to have a dialogue with one of its members), here’s an explanation of what, exactly, is wrong with wearing blackface, on Halloween or ever:

The history of blackface

Blackface is much more than just dark makeup used to enhance a costume.

Its American origins can be traced to minstrel shows. In the mid to late nineteenth century, white actors would routinely use black grease paint on their faces when depicting plantation slaves and free blacks on stage.

To be clear, these weren’t flattering representations. At all. Taking place against the backdrop of a society that systematically mistreated and dehumanized black people, they were mocking portrayals that reinforced the idea that African-Americans were inferior in every way.

The blackface caricatures that were staples of Minstrelsy (think: Mammy, Uncle Tom, Buck, and Jezebel) took a firm hold in the American imagination, and carried over into other mediums of entertainment.

Blackface has also been seen in Vaudeville Shows and on Broadway. Yes, black actors sometimes wore blackface, too, because white audiences didn’t want to see them on the stage without it.

We have blackface performances to thank for some of the cartoonish, dehumanizing tropes that still manage to make their way into American culture.

Beyond that, blackface and systematic social and political repression are so inextricably linked that, according to C. Vann Woodward’s history The Strange Career of Jim Crow, the very term “Jim Crow” — usually used as shorthand for rigid anti-black segregation laws in force between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement -— derives from an 1832 blackface minstrel number by Thomas D. Rice.

There’s no way around it: this particular costume choice has a terrible track record. 

Contemporary blackface

No, minstrel shows don’t really happen anymore, but keep in mind that it hasn’t been all that long since blackface in its original form existed. And it was regularly seen on television as recently as 1978 in The Black and White Minstrel Show.

If respect for people who had to live through a time when blackface went hand-in-hand with day-to-day hateful and discriminatory treatment isn’t enough to keep you from wearing it, consider this: there’s a case to be made that it’s tied up with some of America’s worst racial dynamics.

David Leonard, chair of Washington State University’s department of critical culture, gender, and race studies, explained it this way in his 2012 Huffington Post essay, “Just Say No To blackface: Neo Minstrelsy and the Power to Dehumanize”:

Blackface is part of a history of dehumanization, of denied citizenship, and of efforts to excuse and justify state violence. From lynchings to mass incarceration, whites have utilized blackface (and the resulting dehumanization) as part of its moral and legal justification for violence. It is time to stop with the dismissive arguments those that describe these offensive acts as pranks, ignorance and youthful indiscretions. Blackface is never a neutral form of entertainment, but an incredibly loaded site for the production of damaging stereotypes…the same stereotypes that undergird individual and state violence, American racism, and a centuries worth of injustice.

See the connection?

He told Vox that, today, blackface reinforces the idea that black people are appropriate targets of ridicule and mockery and reminds us of stereotypes about black criminality, and danger. This, says Leonard, can serve to support implicit bias and discriminatory treatment and in areas from law enforcement to employment.

Plus, in a society that allegedly values racial integration, isn’t there something unsettling about the idea that the closest thing to an actual black person at your party could be someone smeared with face paint and wearing an Afro wig? Leonard says this creates a false sense of diversity in at atmospheres that include “everything but the actual person, the community, and the culture.” Does that sound like somewhere you’d be proud to be?

It makes no difference whether you feel racist in blackface

Attendees of a 2013  “Africa-themed” birthday party (Facebook)

A common refrain in defense of blackface is that it is all in good fun, a joke, harmless, or not done with the intent to bother anyone. Some have even gone farther. Reason‘s Thaddeus Russell wrote that the practice could be understood as a positive thing:

“We will likely never know what motivates contemporary blackface performers. But those who reject the beliefs planted in our culture by Puritans and Victorians might consider the possibility that, like the originators of the practice, they are joining a 200-year, unconscious struggle for freedom.”

But here’s the thing: not feeling racist when you’re wearing blackface does nothing to change how it affects those who see it (and today, thanks to social media, that doesn’t just mean your trick-or-treaters, or the guests at the party you attend — it means the world).

Your innermost thoughts don’t change the impact blackface has on the people of all races around you, or the way it reinforces stereotypes and the idea that blackness is, at best, a joke.

“In many ways, one’s intent is irrelevant,” said Leonard. “The harm, whether it’s harm in terms of eliciting anger, or sadness, or triggering various emotions or causing [black people to feel] both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time, is there. When someone says, ‘I didn’t mean it that way,’ well, their real question should be not ‘Did I mean it?’ but, ‘Am I causing harm?'”

Not getting what’s wrong with blackface isn’t an excuse

Juliana Hough (

Juliana Hough in a costume inspired by Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,”  2013 (

In “Just Say No to Blackface,” Leonard wrote that some people feel they should have the option to live in ignorance about what’s wrong with blackface. That itself, he argued, says a lot about how racism works:

“The ability to be ignorant, to be unaware of the history and consequences of racial bigotry, to simply do as one pleases, is a quintessential element of privilege. The ability to disparage, to demonize, to ridicule, and to engage in racially hurtful practices from the comfort of one’s segregated neighborhoods and racially homogeneous schools reflects both privilege and power. The ability to blame others for being oversensitive, for playing the race card, or for making much ado about nothing are privileges codified structurally and culturally.”

So, maybe you don’t know anything about the history of minstrelsy, and maybe you don’t know anything about the pain and trauma of living in a society that imagines blackness as comical or criminal.

That, according to Leonard, is the problem.

The question, to ask yourself if you claim ignorance is,  he said, “Why do you not know, and what have you done to make sure that you continue to not know?”

After all, embracing the chance to mock, dehumanize, and to dismiss the feelings and demands of others, all while re-imagining history so that only things you deem wrong are wrong, is a pretty great way to perpetuate a racist society that treats black people like crap.

Finally, if you really cannot understand what’s wrong with with blackface, challenge yourself to figure out what seems so right about it.  Leonard suggests that blackface fans ask themselves, “Why do I derive pleasure from this? What’s the investment in doing it, and what’s the investment in defending it?”

If you can’t answer that, but you’re still set on doing something predictably offensive, why don’t you just go ahead and choose the sexy Ebola nurse outfit instead?

Chocolate – Not so sweet (Extra Credit)

Published October 29, 2014 by djlwsu

Watch these two documentaries below and: 1) Write down 7 things that you learned from film; 2) write down 1 things you plan to share with a friend/family member and what you hope they do with that information; 3) reflect on the information in this video connects with our discussions of race, privilege, stereotypes, inequity, and the restaurant industry; 4) discuss how the video makes you feel

300-400 words

Up to 25 extra credit

Last day December 5

Higher black populations mean harsher prison policies, study says (Double Participation)

Published October 24, 2014 by djlwsu

Higher black populations mean harsher prison policies, study says

Prison bars

(Photo via © Tracy King –

Higher black populations mean harsher prison policies, study says

According to new research, the size of a state’s black population—not the crime rate—is the strongest indicator of harsher punitive practices

With a population of 2.4 million people behind bars, the United States is the incarceration capital of the world. Commonly referred to as mass incarceration, the oft-discussed phenomenon has largely been driven by state punitive policies, which have grown increasingly strict in recent years, but what is less understood is how prison rates and practices vary so greatly from state to state.

Reprinted with permission from

More than half of U.S. prisoners are currently held in state facilities, but while Louisiana imprisons 858 people per 100,000 residents and allows for the death penalty, Maine imprisons only 133 and abolished executions in 1887. So the question is: What makes one state act tougher on crime, and therefore become a greater contributor to mass imprisonment, than another?

According to research by Rice University, the answer comes down to race. In a new study that looks at how social, economic and political factors affect state punitiveness, researchers found that a state’s African-American population was the strongest predictor of harsher prison policies, regardless of the crime rate. Specifically, states with larger black communities were more likely to have stricter incarceration practices, such as minimum sentences for various offenses, worse confinement conditions and tougher approaches toward juveniles.

Black Community Harsh Police_01


“There is a systemic and structural issue going on here,” says Katherine Neill, a postdoctoral fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University and the lead author of the study. “It’s clear that race is an important factor in the criminal justice system.”

Sixty percent of the U.S. prison population is black and 1 in 3 face a life sentence, as opposed to just 1 in 17 imprisoned white men. And although some could use those statistics to argue that black people commit a disproportionate amount of crime, what Neill found instead is that an increased presence of black people in a community alone makes a state more likely to have excessively stringent punitive policies.

Her findings also support a common and well-corroborated theory that the criminal justice system is used as a method of social control for populations deemed threatening because of their race. “The idea that black males are violent people has been ingrained in our culture,” Neill says.

Because of this, elected officials have turned to the prison system to mitigate the perceived danger, in exchange for votes and political support. Of course, this has not been without its consequences: Aside from being a huge financial burden on cash-strapped states, entire communities are also unraveling.

Black Community Harsh Police_02

“You have some areas where a near majority of the population has come into some sort of contact with the criminal justice system, and that really disrupts the social fabrics of those communities,” says Neill. “You have kids who think that going to prison is a normal part of growing up.”

“You have some areas where a near majority of the population has come into some sort of contact with the criminal justice system, and that really disrupts the social fabrics of those communities,” says Neill. “You have kids who think that going to prison is a normal part of growing up.”

Overbearing punitive policies also negatively impact the nation as a whole by lowering voter turnout and breeding further distrust in the political system. There are many states where felons are automatically disenfranchised, which creates a population of pseudo citizens who cannot actively contribute to society.

Today 2.5 percent of the overall population and a staggering 7.7 percent of the African-American population cannot vote for this reason. But even in states where felons do hold the right, they and their families are often unlikely to participate politically when they feel that the government is against them. In turn, this gives politicians little incentive to be answerable to their needs.

Fortunately, there have been slight improvements to state punitive policies in recent years, such as the decriminalization of marijuana, but this has mostly been motivated by fiscal needs rather than social issues.

“The financial concerns are the most pragmatic, politically neutral way to deal with [mass incarceration],” says Neill. “But if you focus on money, it has unintended consequences for anyone facing some sort of legal action.” Such repercussions include cuts to prison programs, as well as the use of astronomical fines as a form of punishment. More importantly, by failing to deal with the underlying race issue directly, lawmakers put themselves in danger of repeating the same patterns in future generations when saving money is no longer a priority.

Black Community Harsh Police_03 SENTENCINGPROJECT.ORG

In a major step forward, on Wednesday President Obama selected Vanita Gupta, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, to head the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Gupta has spent a decade attacking the racist practices of the criminal justice system, and her appointment can be seen as a signal that the federal government may finally be ready to tackle the issue.

And for so many, it’s about time.

“As a nation we pride ourselves on freedom and equality, but we’re not a particularly free society when we lock up more people than every other nation in the world,” Neill says. “We’re not an equal society when we have a justice system that sends people of color to prison far more often and in a systemic way.”

The House I Live in (extra Credit)

Published October 23, 2014 by djlwsu

In space below, list 10 things you learned from film? 300-400 words.  Give specifics and details from film.  Finish with a paragraph of how you see your own experience in relationship to film.  Be clear, I will be looking for specifics, examples, quotes, and examples from film; I will be looking for originality and your reflecting on how the film impacted to you.  You can earn UP TO 25 points added to exam

Last day, November 6