The Daily Aztec

Society paints racist views


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by Marissa Ochoa, Staff Columnist

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With Halloween just around the corner, there’s bound to be some case of blackface popping up and causing a controversy. However, it’s not necessarily racist if the portrayal of the costume is respectful.

Blackface, or applying makeup to resemble an African American, is no stranger to hyped-up scandals of racism. Often times, with situations concerning racism, there are metaphoric lines society knows not to cross. However, questioning the status quo is what helps society evolve. So here my question stands: Why is the portrayal of blackface racist?

Blackface began around the 1830s as an exaggeration of how society believed African Americans acted. Decades after, it made its way to minstrel shows and was a popular theatrical aspect until the civil rights movement.

Recently, there have been incidents of blackface across media outlets that many people agree contribute to racist stereotypes. However, what I question is not blackface itself, but why society finds blackface offensive. In some recent cases, those who painted their face darker didn’t do so to exaggerate or undermine African American culture, so why is everybody still offended by something that no longer holds racist values?

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the reason blackface is considered offensive is because of the way individuals portray its meaning without understanding what it’s actually about? I understand decades ago, when minstrel shows used blackface to negatively exaggerate the African American community, the portrayal of blackface was demeaning. However, in the present, it isn’t necessarily representing that foundation anymore. Of course there are those exceptions, but as a whole, present day blackface can be simply used as a part of a costume.

Let’s take, for example, the second-grad student from Colorado who painted his face darker to resemble Martin Luther King Jr. for a school project. The media flipped out over an 8-year-old boy who was only portraying a historic icon to the best of his abilities.

That’s where the disconnect lies. People need to look at the world color blind. Instead of seeing blackface, look at what the individual is actually doing in terms of his or her intention. In regard to the second grader, his intentions were to represent MLK as he saw him. Malicious? I think not. It’s all about context, yet everybody loves to jump the gun and call out anything remotely close to racism.

How can a person not be racist while portraying somebody of African American descent? Well, let’s think about the reciprocal here. “White Chicks” is a comedy about two African American FBI Agents who dress up — and paint their face white — to portray two rich white girls. Yet, no backlash came of it because it was understood it was done as part of a costume. Within those contexts, it was completely acceptable.

Now, why is blackface any different? Because the roles are reversed?

Although society still has a very long way to go in regards to total equality, people need to start realizing not everything is intended to be racist.

Blackface in the 21st century is far from what it originally used to be.”

Blackface in the 21st century is far from what it originally used to be. If people just accept blackface as a racist act, it will stall a movement toward an evolving community. The more everybody clings to old ideas of racism, the less people will be aware of the realities surrounding racism today.

Everybody likes to hold on to what used to be considered racist instead of thinking about its relevancy in today’s society. There’s always talk about wanting equality, but if there is still a hold onto these old ideas, society will forever be at a standstill. Stop saying “that’s racist” and start questioning whether it actually is. One will surprisingly see that the world isn’t quite as black and white as it used to be.

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18 Responses to “Society paints racist views”

  1. Michael J. Mothershed on October 30th, 2014 4:18 pm

    I understand your concern about society moving towards a more equal and color blind society, but this article does it no justice at all. This article just shows that you do not understand the the affects of the use of blackface today, whether intentional or unintentional, on the African American community. Your argument fails to incorporate why African Americans may feel a certain way when blackface is used. Blackface was created as another method to ridicule and oppress African Americans (who at the time were slaves) and also reinforced stereotypes that are still present in society today. One thing you did not mention in the article was that even African Americans were forced to put on the blackface makeup, regardless of their skin complexion. It was a disgusting practice that made African Americans feel like they were less than human, like they were animals. So, why in the world would it be okay for people to use blackface today. It does more to show that those who use it are ignorant of the history of the practice and that they are ignorant of its affects on the African American community. None of your examples come close to addressing the impact that blackface has had on the African American community and its deadly use in American history. It is something that needs to be boxed up and left in the past. More than anything this article shows the lack of understanding of one’s ethnic history.

  2. Kiana Caton on October 30th, 2014 10:08 pm

    So, Marissa, if I understand your logic correctly, then let me offer these other examples in which you might think racism is minimal or even non-existent:

    1. The n-word must be ok for anybody to say because, like blackface, it just doesn’t fit the same context as it used to.

    2. If somebody dresses up in KKK robes and walks around holding a noose, the act must not be racist because things just aren’t as they used to be.

    3. It’s ok for people to dress up in stereotypical Native American clothing and go around calling their journey the Trail of Tears because that was so long ago that it can’t be racist anymore.

    There’s a lot to be said in response to your article, but just to sum it up, it all goes back to the history. It is said that we need to know our history so that we don’t repeat mistakes. If blackface is considered a negative and hurtful act of the past, no amount of time will make it right, especially when there are still genuine racists out there. Check your privilege at the door and try considering it from the perspective of someone who actually is black and had to deal with these issues regularly.

  3. Chloe Sension on October 31st, 2014 12:54 am

    With regards to this article, its publication and content, I am extremely disappointed and offended.

    First, with regards to the argumentation and credentials of this author, this writer should not have been allowed to publish this let alone even write it in the first place. This writers argument is incredibly flawed and based on opinions and ignorance. For example, when she says, “so why is everybody still offended by something that no longer holds racist values?” Or here “people need to start realizing that not everything is intended to be racist” This writer has obviously never been black, experienced racism towards herself, or ever had someone she cares about effected by racism. IT STILL EXISTS. Blackface DOES still hold racist values, it is someone dressing as someone who is African American for a costume to act and dress in a certain way playing into stereotypes as to what a “Black person acts like”. Also, even if things are not INTENDED to be racist, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still racist. These are only two examples of the numerous flaws in this argument. This article would not even get a C if submitted to my Phillosphy 110 class, so I am surprised and disappointed, as an understatement, as to why is was published here.

    Now with regards to the content, this is the most disgusting representation of SDSU values, education, and publication I’ve ever seen. I am a freshman and I do not want to be a part of a university that supports racism. Racism is a very alive and a serious issue TODAY and it is the duty of the university to foster understanding, tolerance, diversity, and values of love, coexistence, and equality. I will not tolerate this behavior and publication in a university whose name I chant and who’s letters I wear on my sweatshirt. I will not stand for racism as a global citizen aimed at bettering society and promoting peace and equality.

    This writer should be fired from her position immediately and the editor of this paper should be evaluated. Racism needs to be taken more seriously at SDSU especially as a school filled with exchange students and ethnically diverse students, how can this be acceptable?

  4. Okaro Shinn on October 31st, 2014 1:13 am

    Dear Ms. Ochoa,

    My name is Okaro Shinn and I’m a black student that attends San Diego State University. When I read this article, not only did I question the integrity of the Daily Aztec but I was embarrassed for the school that Im enrolled in. To have this blatantly ignorant, myopic and narrow view published as representative of SDSU dispositions is appalling to say the least. I challenge the Daily Aztec to not only do a better job screening these articles, but to actually take a moment and have some foresight on the implications of these articles. As I sure you are aware Ms. Ochoa, words have power, maybe you should consider this reality before you let rubbish pass through from your fingertips to the keyboard.

    Now, Ms. Ochoa, have you ever been, are, or ever will be black? If no, then I urge you to consider what I say with the most tremendous gravity. Writing or telling someone what they should or should not be offended by when you are not directly impacted by your own opinions is NEVER wise.

    You do not have the right to ever tell another race, creed or culture what they should and should not find offensive. If you have any scruples left you will heed my advice and realize that when you make the decision that you know what’s best for a group of people, you marginalize them and delegitimize all the pain and suffering said group of people have gone through.

    You mentioned as an example for your wide sweeping racist remarks two pieces of “evidence”.

    First, how a second grader was penalized for putting on black face to impersonate Martin Luther King Jr. Was this out of “malice” you rhetorically ask? I have a better question. Are you naive enough to believe that this one incident is representative of most cases where people put on black face to offend and demean? A student innocently put on black face and so now this can account for most incidents, enough at least for you to decide to write this piece of garbage for an entire community to see. If you really can’t see how narrow of an argument that is, then this proves even more that you have absolutely no right to write on sensitive topics such as these.

    A sensitive topic indeed, but that doesn’t stop you from writing this piece with the tone and cadence of a teacher chiding an innocent kid who just doesn’t get it.

    Second piece of evidence? A comedy flick made in 2004. White Chicks. I can barely find the strength to write further due to how disgusted I feel that this rubbish came out of someone’s brain. Allow me to give you some context Ms. Ochoa.

    Are you comparing the portrayal of a couple of white girls in a movie to black people being called monkeys and being shown as rapist, thieves and subhuman. Are you comparing the portrayal of a couple white girls in a movie to years of contextual lynchings? Are you comparing the portrayal of a couple white girls to the fact that if a black person wanted to be in a movie, they had to say “yes master” every couple of lines? Are you really trying to tell me that the two are comparable? That I should be just as offended by both, ignoring America’s deep seeded and bloody racist past and the racism I deal with on a DAY to DAY.

    Are you actually telling to calm down when I see a person in black face? You know what I see? I see the fact that my people have fought for YEARS to get just a sliver of respect in this country. I see the fact that we were hosed, beaten, jailed and scared away by those who used to put on blackface. I see the fact that if I want to get a job, although I have a 4.0 and am a model student at SDSU, I will always have to work twice as hard so my white employer can take me seriously and even CONSIDER me for a job.

    So keep quoting the Minstrel Show while people call me nigger to my face. Keep saying that we don’t live in that time anymore when people assume my dad isn’t the manager at his store because he’s black. Keep telling me it doesn’t mean the same thing anymore when you don’t know the hardship of being black for a single day. Keep telling me not call people out for being racist by wearing blackface.

    In the mean time, allow me to tell you to not ever write about a sensitive topic ever again. Your words are a poison on those who read this and this makes our society backslide even more for every inch of respect that my fellow blacks have fought for.

    Do me the courtesy.

  5. Brittany on October 31st, 2014 2:17 am

    Let’s start this off with, excuse my language, a crock of sh*t! As an African American student currently attending SDSU, this is signaling that there’s no hope for the majority’s understanding of why blackface is racist. There’s no “respectful manner” of blackface, EVER. Blackface will ALWAYS considered racist. The amount of ignorance that lies within this article is beyond disgusting. Furthermore, this is sickening to know that I have to share this beautiful campus with this ignorant, racist pig of an author.

  6. Alisdair Broshar on October 31st, 2014 2:29 am

    While I can see the validity of the intentions of this article’s argument (urging the world and the system that operate with in to stop holding prejudices and discriminating people based off the color of their skin); the overall content and idea that blackface is not and should not be considered racist is totally misinformed, ignorant, and offensive. I honestly don’t know where to start. As you addressed, it’s roots are found in film where white actors painted their skin to act as hyper-stereotypical black characters. Problematic in that the reason actors did this was because directors would not cast black actors and these portrayals were if not always, primarily hyper-stereotyped, inaccurate, and offensive. Saying that today in a world that is far from being post-racial, this historical weight doesn’t transfer over is unfair and wrong. Maybe it doesn’t look like that to you, but that is only your opinion. Your example of the eight year old dressing up as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was attacked on the internet exemplifies your true intentions of saying that it can have innocent intent of celebrating strong historical figures, but I think you fail to see the historical significance and offensiveness that blackface is. Why does a kid have to alter his biological appearances to complete a costume. In my opinion, wearing a button up and nice dress pants would suffice in portraying MLK. If a kid of color wanted to dress up as a president, should he use make up to change the color of his/her skin? No… You addressed how this occurred in White Chicks and seemed to imply how this is an example of reverse racism (a concept I don’t find valid). Yes White Chicks is a movie where actors of color depict stereotypical white upper class females. What I view as the critical difference between blackface and what occurred in White Chicks is that people who look white are not discriminated against by the system (by system I mean people who hire employees, call the police/who the police target, etc) the way that people of color are.

  7. putte on October 31st, 2014 3:27 am

    I painted my self black today

  8. Kristyl on October 31st, 2014 10:17 am

    Ok so im confused… I thought you understood the relevance of racial insensitivity and privilege when you wrote the response article on the racial profiling in September. Now you’re saying that black face should only be viewed in a modern context which is not explicitly intended to offend Black Americans…

    I find that contradictory because you already know that we are all bunched in one group and the actions of a few stereotype the entire group because of racial inequality and stereotypes against Black Americans due to our unfortunate history with the system of American White Privilege. Therefore, if racial profiling and stereotyping is relevant because of our history in this country why isn’t blackface?

    Its not about intentions its about racial sensitivity and acknowledgement. It bothers me that we clearly have a Cultural Competency Program on this “Diverse” university that practices “inclusiveness” but the writers in this department do not seem culturally competent. You all have a responsibility as journalist on a “diverse” campus to understand the histories of the multifaceted people that come to this campus for education AND a sense of community.

    What kind of community are you all representing through these writings? One that does not fully understand privileges or one that continues to form their own opinions that neglect facts and documented histories?

    What do we as Black Americans need to do make our voices and ALL of our experiences and history one of relevance and importance and not just swept under the rug stories for other peoples to impose their opinions of validity or relevance?

  9. Kristyl on October 31st, 2014 10:25 am

    Furthermore, to share more relevant information – there is no such thing as reverse racism.
    Racism are systems in which one race establishes institutional and systematic dominance and oppression over another or other races. Individuals of any race can bigots, or prejudice.

    But reverse racism implies that Black Americans are oppressing White Americans… which could never even theoretically happen. Lets educate ourselves on the type of language we are using and what these words really mean so we can appropriately conceptualize what we are actually saying in regards to reality.

    White Chicks can A) never take away privilege or disproportionately effect how White Women are treated in this country. White women have the second highest privilege in America, only second to white men.

    B) A comedic movie in blackface under the same context (ex: Black Chicks) is racially insensitive because Black Women are of the lowest bracket of privilege in this country. Historical contexts are always relevant until their truly is 100% equal rights in this country which is probably an American utopian dream…

  10. James on November 11th, 2014 12:09 am

    Your position is so horribly argued. You’ve defined the rules of the game so that your argument wins. “Racism are systems in which one race establishes institutional and systematic dominance and oppression over another or other races. Individuals of any race can bigots, or prejudice.” Where did you pull that from? That reads like something that came from a lower level liberal arts course. Call me a maverick but maybe we should look at a more commonly held definition, one that comes from a dictionary. Webster’s states “poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.” When that definition is applied your argument falls apart. It’s not about social dominance or brackets of privilege, its about an aspect of human nature that remains deeply flawed.

  11. Ali Yost on October 31st, 2014 1:43 pm

    I wouldn’t think it would be racist if an African American girl dressed up as Barbie for Halloween blonde wig and all. Or for a white guy to dress up as a Native American for Halloween. As long as they aren’t doing it to try to make fun of or mock another race, I personally don’t find it racist. Black face to make fun of black people would clearly be racist. I don’t think people understand what the article is saying. At least in my analysis, the article isn’t supporting black face, but saying that it is possible to do it in a respectful, non racist way. Now, if you think that black face is NEVER non racist, that is a valid critique of this article, but saying that SDSU promotes racism is not. I would never want to attend a school that supports racism and I think that SDSU at least tries to support diversity.

  12. Kiana on November 4th, 2014 10:35 pm

    Hi Ali,

    My one question to you: what purpose does it serve anybody to dress in blackface if they are not mocking the black race?

    Thank you.

  13. The Daily Aztec on October 31st, 2014 2:30 pm

    We appreciate the varying points of view on this issue and invite anyone who is interested to respond to the story via a Letter to the Editor. The guidelines for such submissions are as follows:

    Letter to the Editors and commentaries of different viewpoints are welcomed The Daily Aztec and will be printed in full when written material is essential to the writer’s meaning and does not cross the boundaries of poor taste, libel or invasion of privacy. Letters may be edited for brevity, spelling and grammatical accuracy. All Letter to the Editor submissions should directly respond to a published column or a campus issue and should not exceed 500 words. Whenever possible, the Opinion Editor will inform letter writer of his or her intent to publish a letter and any editing that has been implemented. Letter writers are encouraged to attribute any statistics or facts used in letters. The Opinion Editor reserves the right to refuse to publish letters that contain facts he or she cannot verify and reasonably believes to be inaccurate.

    You can contact the Opinion Editor at

  14. Brittany on November 2nd, 2014 7:12 pm

    It would be more appreciative if this was removed immediately. Posting/publishing responses would result in more controversy that is not needed.

    “The Opinion Editor reserves the right to refuse to publish letters that contain facts he or she cannot verify and reasonably believes to be inaccurate.”

    Elpin Keshishzadeh, and KC Stanfield shouldn’t have approved to publish this because he or she clearly isn’t directly affected by this.

  15. Priscilla T.H. on October 31st, 2014 2:50 pm

    I have to say I share the same views as many of the commenters before me.

    It is very dissapointing to see how this article was allowed to be published. This is honestly something I would have thought to see in the Koala before I’d see it in here; they were offended by this as well and I think that says a lot.

    Ms. Ochoa I would advice you to withdraw yourself from your position, but not before you apologize to all of the members of the SDSU community. It is deeply saddening how culturally insensitive this is, and its unbelievable how it was still approved.

    Anyone who writes about these sensitive topics should be culturally competent; if you’re not, please think twice. SDSU has a certificate program that could help you with that. I have always thought that the certificate should be a general education requirement for the campus. Anyways, have some experience socializing and actually trying to understand other cultures. Get out of your comfort zone. & Learn to respect and remember to never minimize other’s struggles. If you don’t know, don’t speculate and assume that you know.

  16. Dwight Scorza on November 10th, 2014 6:02 pm

    First I would like to applaud you Marissa for having the courage to publish your opinion. Secondly, I would like to thank you for speaking about a controversial issue that many people are afraid to talk about. Conversations on racial issues always bring out people from the extreme left and right and very few people from the middle. While I do not agree with everything you stated in your article, some of the responses are just ridiculous and completely off base. I love how people try to pretend everything that happen to someone they may or may not have been related to and have never met has happened to them. They believe they have the right to be offended by every issue that faces their community. The practice of Blackface is grounded in racism against African Americans, but it is not an issue for every African American. Your example of Martin Luther King is on point and a perfect analogy. MLK would probably be very proud that any little boy painted his face to be like him. Just like their is a since of pride when someone wears the mask of a superhero. It is an acknowledgement of their greatness. The intentions of the person with the paint on their face is what is truly important. If they are showing respect and admiration for the accomplishments of a group or individual, then no one should criticize what they believe is appropriate. On the other hand, if their actions are meant to demean or belittle another culture then that is completely unacceptable and should be criticized by everyone.

  17. Michael Mothershed on November 17th, 2014 11:54 am

    I completely agree with you that this article needed to be published because race is one of those issues that is just swept under the rug because people are afraid to speak about controversial issues such as this. However, I believe you missed the point entirely, just like the author of this article. First of all, your claim that this is “not an issue for every African American” is clearly misinformed. This practice and its history coupled with the fact that it is being used today in ignorance, does not eliminate the way it affects the African American community. Blackface is part of a larger racial issue which, if you haven’t noticed, is still present today. Secondly, did you really just say that MLK would be proud of the little by who dressed in blackface to look like him? This example was a weak one to begin with because it likens the mistake and ignorance of using blackface to that of a child. Thirdly, how do you know that any of the writers have not been personally affected by this? That’s making a large assumption.

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