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Removing 'blackface episodes' is easy. Actually confronting racism in media isn't

June 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Rebecca Wanzo says the removal of an episode of "The Golden Girls" that confronts racism by invoking blackface illustrates a deeper issue than problematic representation. It is easier, she writes, to pull episodes like this one, or of "30 Rock" or other shows, than to do the hard work of thinking through the embedded nature of black caricature and racism in popular culture, not just in the United States but around the world.

Given the ways in which caricatures of Black people are often used to justify such violence, interrogating Black representation in popular culture is a natural outgrowth of the movement.

But as a scholar who works on racial caricature, I can't help but feel that pulling these episodes demonstrates a mere surface engagement with this history, and an inability to recognize precisely what makes racist representations injurious.

It is easier to pull these episodes than to do the hard work of thinking through the embedded nature of black caricature and racism in popular culture, not just in the United States but around the world.

Historically, blackface has been deployed in roughly three different ways in popular culture: the traditional form of non-black people using blackface; Black people who have been forced to use blackface (or other kinds of stereotypical performances) for employment in limited entertainment markets; and non-Black people deploying speech patterns or performances that evoke Black identity or caricatures of Black identity.

Part of what makes this episode work as an anti-racist episode is that it does not treat Dorothy's racism as acceptable.

This stands in contrast to students dressing up in blackface for Halloween, which makes a nasty joke of their peers, or when people clearly deploy racist stereotype to suggest Black people are grotesque, criminal or comical.

But I fear that removing episodes -- some of which actually open discussions about racist representation -- simply goes for an easy, non-substantive approach to harder questions about more dangerous racist logics and practices in Hollywood culture.

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