By Doug Porter
A couple of football coaches from San Diego’s Serra High School have been in the news this week after photographs of them wearing blackface as part of their “Jamaican Bobsled Team” halloween costumes surfaced.
San Diego Unified School District officials have acknowledged “inappropriate activities” and are investigating the incident, which seems to have involved a non-school related party.
To nobody’s surprise the UT-San Diego has a letter to the editor today decrying the ‘political correctness’ of the situation. Reader Jack Cohen opines, “The absolutely priggish administrator who said that we cannot tolerate the slightest insensitivity should be exiled to the next universe.”
I’m going to take a stand on the side of priggishness today and say those costumes were stupid. Constitutionally protected stupidity, I might add.
And deeply racist. I’m also willing to bet that most readers (and those coaches) don’t know the history of blackface and why such a costume might provoke such a controversy.
So here it is. Read it and see if you can figure out why somebody might be offended:
From The Grio, penned by North Carolina State University’s Blair L. M. Kelley:
Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin. Wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs. Although Jim Crow was probably born in the folklore of the enslaved in the Georgia Sea Islands, one of the most famous minstrel performers, a white man named Thomas “Daddy” Rice brought the character to the stage for the first time. Rice said that on a trip through the South he met a runaway slave, who performed a signature song and dance called jump Jim Crow. Rice’s performances, with skin blackened and drawn on distended blood red lips surrounded by white paint, were said to be just Rice’s attempt to depict the realities of black life.
Jim Crow grew to be minstrelsy’s most famous character, in the hands of Rice and other performers Jim Crow was depicted as a runaway: “the wheeling stranger” and “traveling intruder.” The gag in Jim Crow performances was that Crow would show up and disturb white passengers in otherwise peaceful first class rail cars, hotels, restaurants, and steamships. Jim Crow performances served as an object lesson about the dangers of free black people, so much so that the segregated spaces first created in northern states in the 1850s were popularly called Jim Crow cars. Jim Crow became synonymous with white desires to keep black people out of white, middle-class spaces…
…Blackface became a mainstay of stage and later film performance in the twentieth century. Most often blackface was used as a comic device that played on the stereotypes of black laziness, ignorance, or crass behavior for laughs. Sometimes blackface was used simply to portray black characters. The 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, the first feature film to be shown in the White House, used blackface to portray Reconstruction era black legislators as incompetent and to paint all black men as threatening to rape white women. The first talking picture, 1927’s The Jazz Singer starred Al Jolson, one of the most famous American performers of his day, in blackface. Even America’s sweetheart, Shirley Temple, donned blackface in 1935 film The Littlest Rebel. While none of the black actors in The Littlest Rebelfilm wore blackface, they performed in a style first created on the minstrel stage one hundred years earlier.
The history of blackface minstrelsy isn’t talked about regularly today, but its cultural residue is all around us. Its painful to note that as one of the most unflinching portraits of American slavery hits the screens in 12 Years a Slave, people still continue to blacken up for laughs. Until we actively remember the ugliness of this history, people will continue to blacken their faces without recognizing the horror hidden beneath the paint.
** Dana Milbank of the Washington Post gets the award for best ties in between the worlds of scary make believe and the congressional hearings on Obamacare:
“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too.”
— the Wicked Witch of the West
Like the Scarecrow, whoever came up with House Republicans’ plan to deal with Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday didn’t have a brain.
It was their big chance to flambé the secretary of health and human services and the person who has overseen the disastrous launch of Obamacare. Instead, they wound up casting her as Judy Garland’s Dorothy.
**Assemblywoman Toni Atkins get kudos for her call to action on behalf of mayoral candidate David Alvarez published in Voice of San Diego:
It takes faith that the same vision we voted for last November will win again, if we do our part. It takes the will and the energy to overcome our political fatigue, and refusing to settle for less than the best.
**Perhaps the most interesting coverage of the current mayoral special election is coming from inewsource.org, which has shown a real talent for converting massive quantities of data into handy dandy charts updated daily.
Want to know how much money each of the candidates has raised? Go here.
The real treat as far as I’m concerned is their map showing voter turnout by neighborhood. Contrary to popular opinion, there appears to be moderately high voter interest. As of yesterday 16.07% of ballots have been returned to the Registrar’s office. Districts north of Interstate 8 have the highest totalsthus far.
**Treat yourself and the country and our city: Register to Vote, if you haven’t already. Monday, November 4th is the last day you can do so to vote in the upcoming special election. You can register online and the site is easy to use.
**Is your boss a jagoff? Make change happen! It’s a treat to read about the Pittsburgh Community Union, especially when you contemplate what this kind of real grass roots activism could do for San Diego and other cities around the country.
From Labor Notes:
In the face of an awful economic climate and labor laws that too often favor employers, Pittsburghers are trying out a new organizing model: a rank-and-file community union.
The fledgling group brings union and non-union workers together to fight side by side on social justice issues and to seed workplace organizing committees through a Pittsburgh-flavored campaign called “Is Your Boss a Jagoff?”
**On the local front it’s important to hail the accomplishments of the Community Budget Alliance, which has succeeded in turning a subject matter that can be eye-bleedingly boring into a source of citizen action.
From the Center for Policy Initiatives:
After a year of work by the Community Budget Alliance, the City of San Diego has changed how it prioritizes infrastructure projects – like roads, sidewalks, water mains, parks and libraries – so that underserved neighborhoods will get a fair shake.
The new policy approved by the City Council yesterday also gives priority to projects that reduce environmental hazards and greenhouse gas emissions, provide services near affordable housing and support living-wage jobs. It could bring everything from bike lanes to new fire stations to previously neglected communities….
…Councilmembers thanked the Community Budget Alliance, a coalition of more than 30 local organizations, which has worked with Councilmembers and City staff for the past year to develop the prioritization policy.
**Both City Beat and Voice of San Diego are up with holiday reading treats for the weekend.
Aaryn Belfer shares an amusing tale including a trip to Michael’s (always a scary experience), a thumb-sucking intervention and the woe of dreaded Christmas creep at City Beat.
Randy Dotinga gives a tour of San Diego’s Hidden Shadows, including spooky places to visit and locales used for scary movies at Voice of San Diego.
**Need a little Eye of Newt for your Halloween potion? It just might be sitting in your spice cabinet.
From today’s New York Times:
About 12 percent of spices brought to the United States are contaminated with insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other things, according to an analysis of spice imports by federal food authorities.
The finding released on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration is part of a comprehensive look at the safety of spice imports that has been years in the making. The federal authorities also found that nearly 7 percent of spice imports examined by federal inspectors were contaminated with salmonella, a toxic bacteria that can cause severe illness in humans.
The shares of imported spices contaminated with insect parts and salmonella were twice those found in other types of imported food, federal food officials said.
**Mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer’s spokesman Tony Manolatos reached deep into the GOP’s Book of Voodoo economics yesterday for a “fact check” on Nathan Fletcher’s debate claim that “he would make San Diego the most competitive city for innovators and grow manufacturing jobs.”
It’s false, Manolatos says, because Fletcher supports increasing the City of San Diego’s linkage fee on large scale commercial developments, a major source of funding for low income housing. Everybody Knows it’s a “Jobs Tax” that will slow job growth and economic development in San Diego, says Faulconer’s spokesman.
And then there’s the Brookings Institute study indicating the linkage fees and the like actually stimulate economic activity.
Remember: Nathan Fletcher = VooDoo Economics, home of Trickle Down and other GOP fantasies that make for horrifying experiences for the non-weathy.
**The large mural of a meat cutter at work alongside Interstate 8 on the outside of the United Foodservice and Commercial Workers headquarters is no more. It’s been painted over and isn’t coming back, according to a receptionist in the building.
**The Smithsonian Magazine’s Halloween food story (they’re very hip these days, you know) is about how, once upon a time, Frankenberry cereal sent hundreds of moms around the country running to emergency rooms because their children’s poop had turned pink.
A 1972 case study, “Benign Red Pigmentation of Stool Resulting from Food Coloring in a New Breakfast Cereal (The Franken Berry Stool),” published in Pediatrics explains the phenomenon later known as “Franken Berry Stool.” A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized for four days after being admitted for possible rectal bleeding. “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream,” Payne reports.
Further questioning of the mother revealed that the child had enjoyed a bowl of Franken Berry cereal two days and one day prior to his hospitalization. By the fourth day, they did a little experiment: They fed the boy four bowls of Franken Berry cereal and for the next two days, he passed bright pink stools. But other than pink poop, there were no other symptoms, Payne reports, “Physical examination upon admission revealed [a boy] in no acute distress and with normal vital signs…Physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.”
At the time of the study, the product had only been on the market for a few weeks. The author warns that “physicians should be aware of its potential for producing reddish stools.” Other monster cereals at the time also used dyes that caused stool to change colors. Booberry, which debuted in December of 1972, for example, uses Blue No. 1 (a dye currently banned in Norway, Finland and France) and turns stool green. Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.
The magazine goes on to tell us not to worry about Franken Berry or any of the other monster cereals available this Halloween, as the offending dyes have been replaced.
**For all those insufferable Red Sox fans out there today celebrating their World Series win yesterday, I bring you this, courtesy of The Onion:
Fifteen minutes after the Boston Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to become World Series Champions, sources are now confirming that local man Bradley Ferrante, 26, is dedicating the trash can he’s lighting on fire to the victims of last April’s Boston Marathon bombings. “4/15, never forget!” said a visibly intoxicated Ferrante before throwing an entire book of lit matches into the trash bin, stumbling slightly before kicking it to the ground, removing his shirt, and screaming “Go Sox!” “Dynasty!” “Big Papi! We love you, Papi!” and “We’re the fuckin’ champs, baby! Boston Strong! Yankees suck! Woo!” At press time, Ferrante was hunched over on Boylston Street, vomiting roughly 800 yards from the marathon’s finish line.
On This Day: 1926 – Magician Harry Houdini died of gangrene and peritonitis resulting from a ruptured appendix. His appendix had been damaged twelve days earlier when he had been punched in the stomach by a student unexpectedly. During a lecture Houdini had commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. 1959 – Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine from Fort Worth, TX, announced that he would never return to the U.S. At the time he was in Moscow, Russia. 1988 – Debbie Gibson held a séance at her Halloween party to contact the spirits of Liberace and Sid Vicious.
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