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Letters to the Editor

On the Use of Blackface

November 2019

They should have been taught better.

Regarding "Blackface: the Sad History of Minstrel Shows" in your Winter 2019 issue, I applaud American Heritage for providing a historical context to the current controversy about the use of blackface by Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia in the 1980s.

I suppose we should not necessarily crucify the perps, who were students at the time, but they should have been taught better. For whites to put on blackface as a supposedly harmless prank underestimates the bitter truth of Jim Crow with all its cruelties.

The minstrel shows had an enormous impact on American folk culture and popular music, as your article shows.  But they were part and parcel of the perpetuation of racism, and in the end there was nothing funny about it in this time and century.

We are still far, far away from burying racism at the crossroads with a stake in its heart.

--Bernard Weisberger, Evanston, IL

 

Editor's note: Prof. Weisberger has been writing for American Heritage since its first issue in 1954, and has been a contributing editor since 1972. He wrote a remarkable essay on his work in the intelligence service during the War in the Pacific, decoding secret Japanese messages. 
 

 

 

 

 

 

then, after  showing , remind the readers without being preachy that