The Spokesman-Review (Spokane) : 2019-02-11
5 : 5 : 5
THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW MONDAY NEWS 5 FEBRUARY 11, 2019 NATION Blackface part of U.S. pop culture into ’80s Portrayals often showed blacks as comical, harmless music.
But as Nelson George argued in his book “Post-Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans,” BET failed to counter negative images by relying on free music videos and investing little money in original programming. “Through this conservative strategy, BET prospered while offering little new to a community starved for images of itself,” George wrote.
In addition, the new black cultural figures rarely engaged in politics or spoke out against racial injustice.
Sometimes, stereotypes and comments did result in consequences. For example, CBS fired sports commentator Jimmy Snyder, known as Jimmy the Greek, in 1988 after he suggested in a television interview that black athletes were better because of slavery. The Los Angeles Dodgers fired general manager Al Campanis in 1987 for saying on ABC’s “Nightline” that blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager” and they were poor swimmers.
In 1987, black demonstrators marched in all-white Forsyth County, Georgia, to protest the racism that kept blacks out for 75 years. They were promptly attacked by white nationalists hurling rocks and waving Confederate flags. The shocking images sparked national outrage and led Oprah Winfrey to air an episode of her then-5-month-old syndicated talk show from the county.
“What are you afraid that black people are going to do?” Winfrey asked the audience.
“I’m afraid of them coming to Forsyth County,” one white man told her.
Today, Gates said, people can no longer claim ignorance. While it should have been understood that blackface was offensive during the 1980s, one might have had to go to the library to learn exactly why, he said.
“We also have more records digitized,” Gates said. “The access to archives is larger, and we have more diversity in the media so we can say these images are painful … and why we shouldn’t use them.” By Russell Contreras ASSOCIATED PRESS At the time Virginia’s future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too – in the hit 1983 comedy “Trading Places.”
Sports announcers of that time often described Boston Celtics player Larry Bird, who is white, as “smart” while describing his black NBA opponents as athletically gifted.
Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s, the era in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, have admitted to wearing blackface as they mimicked pop singer Michael Jackson and rapper Kurtis Blow, respectively.
Meanwhile, Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson made music history with his “Thriller” album, U.S. college students protested against South Africa’s racist system of apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom “The Cosby Show” debuted sent messages that racial stereotypes on network television. and racist imagery were
It would be another 10 years before comical and harmless, despite the rise of multiculturalism pleas from civil rights groups and began to change America’s racial black newspapers. sensibilities, in part because intellectuals Herring of Virginia was a 19-year-oldUniversity student when and journalists of color were better positioned to successfully he wore brown makeup and a wig challenge racist images, and to look like rapper Kurtis Blow at Hollywood began to listen. a 1980 party. Three years before
“We are in a stronger position that, white actor Gene Wilder about to educate symbols the and American cultural public practices darkened in the his movie face “Silver with shoepolish Streak” that are harmful today than co-starring Richard Pryor. He Louis we were Gates in the Jr., 1980s,” director said of Henry the used a stereotypical a black person walk living toimpersonatein Hutchins Center for African & an urban neighborhood. African American Research at On television, viewers could see Harvard University. a Tom and Jerry cartoon featuring
During the ’80s, college faculties the character Mammy Two Shoes, and student bodies were less an obese black maid who spoke in diverse, Gates said. Some scholars a stereotypical voice. The 1940s who entered college during the cartoon series was shown across 1960s had yet to take on roles in several markets throughout the which mainstream culture would 1980s. Television stations ignored heed their cultural critiques, he complaints from civil rights said. groups.
At the time Northam and Herring Elsewhere, Miami erupted into put on black makeup, Hollywood riots following and popular the culture acquittal still of ASSOCIATED PRESS Warner Bros. animators and cartoonists Friz Freleng, right, and Chuck Jones, stand by their drawings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, for the 50th anniversary of Warner Bros.'s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, on Sept. 10, 1985. Television stations still aired syndicated Bugs Bunny cartoons with racial stereotypes in the 1980s. white police officers who killed black salesman and retired Marine Arthur McDuffie in what many called a case of police brutality. President Jimmy Carter visited and pressed for an end to the violence, but a protester threw a bottle at his limousine as he left.
When Northam wore blackface to imitate Michael Jackson and copy his moonwalking skills at a 1984 San Antonio dance contest, television stations still aired Looney Tunes episodes with racially insensitive images using Bugs Bunny and other characters despite some controversial episodes being taken off the air in 1968.
African-Americans, however, had reason to be hopeful amid electoral gains. A year before, in 1983, Chicago became the latest city to elect a black mayor, Harold Washington, after activists registered 100,000 new black voters. That election, Jesse Jackson later said, paved the way for him to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 1984.
“It was out of that context that my own candidacy emerged,” Jackson said in the 1990 “Eyes on the Prize” documentary. Jackson lost the nomination to former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Two years after Northam’s moonwalk performance, the comedy “Soul Man” hit theaters. In the movie, Mark Watson, played by white actor C. Thomas Howell, takes tanning pills in a larger dose to appear African-American so he can obtain a scholarship meant for black students at Harvard Law School. The movie drew a strong reaction from the NAACP and protesters to movie theaters.
Still, “Soul Man” took in around $28 million domestically, equivalent to around $63.5 million today.
Despite those images, new and popular black cultural figures also emerged, including Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey and a young Michael Jordan. Black Entertainment Television, or BET, was founded in 1980 by businessman Robert L. Johnson, giving the country access to black entertainment using 1970s sitcoms and Advertisement Advertisement New Alternative to Adult Diapers and Catheters Sets Men Free ‘Super-comfortable,’ offers 24 hour leak-free security, available to many at little to no out-of-pocket cost! healthcare professionals who recommend Men’s Liberty everyday.
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