‘It’s offensive because it’s a lie’: Blackface discussion focuses on origin, meaning

Community holds discussion on blackface amid Capital scandals

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Following the blackface controversy surrounding Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, the Richmond community is coming together to discuss why blackface images are so hurtful.

People gathered at Richmond’s Black History Museum to watch a documentary on the history of blackface followed by a discussion with a panel of experts. People of all races, ages and backgrounds said they just needed a venue to share their thoughts, especially with Virginia being thrown into the national spotlight.

“It has to be a coming together. It has to be a dialogue,” 71-year-old AlTariq Ramadan, who was born and raised in Richmond, said. ”We couldn’t swim in the white swimming pool. We had to go down to the canal and the James River to learn how to swim."

He says after overcoming such a hard past, noticing old images of blackface resurfacing is an unwelcome reminder of old.

“Its offensive because it’s a lie,” Ramadan said. “It’s a racist tactic. Without the dialogue, the wrongs continue.”

That’s why Ramadan was front and center at the event, though he believes Northam can still lead Virginia while others have called for him to step down.

The discussion follows the revelation that a photo on Northam’s college yearbook shows a person in blackface next to a KKK member. Northam has denied he’s in the photo but admitted to darkening his face to imitate Michael Jackson in a dance contest. Soon after, Herring admitted that he once posed in blackface, emulating rapper Kurtis Blow.

"Why these blackface images hurt so much because we weren’t seen as people, as people with feelings, families, a history,” University of Richmond professor Dr. Lauranette Lee said. How does that impact what they do for the majority of the people? How does it impact what they do for those that are considered marginal people?”

After viewing the documentary, “Ethnic Notions,” the crowd engaged in a community conversation.

“The people that are here tonight are not the ones that need to be reached,” artist Paul Rucker said. “It’s the people that feel blackface is normal and it’s OK to have as a Halloween costume. One of the many things we don’t talk about is the origin of blackface. Many people are saying it’s OK to have blackface, but they don’t know the history of it. Humiliation. The characters they portrayed in blackface were not portrayed as very smart people. They were portrayed as buffoons, as thieves, as cowards."

Thursday morning, Northam is scheduled to sit in on a discussion about race at Virginia Union University. Monday evening, a student leader drafted a letter asking Northam to reschedule his visit for the spring.

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