By Michael Millner, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell . First published on The Convervsation
Blackface is part of American culture’s DNA.
But America has forgotten that.
For almost two weeks, conflict has raged over the use of blackface by two current Virginia politicians when they were younger. The revelations have threatened the men’s jobs and their standing in the community.
The use of blackface is now politically and culturally radioactive. Yet there was a time when it wasn’t.
I teach the history of blackface in the United States. Like much of America, my undergraduate students suffer from a kind of historical amnesia about its role in American culture. They know little about its long history, and they haven’t considered its prevalence and significance in everyday American life.
Most of all, they’ve never asked themselves, “Why blackface?”