How To Talk To White People About Blackface

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As the inevitable Halloween Week avalanche of white people caught in blackface has begun, we present, for your information, my keynote address at October’s Secret Global White People Meeting.

First off, I would like to thank you for allowing me to address you during one of the busiest times of year on the Caucasian social calendar. Aside from your World Series, Columbus Day parades, and trips to Maine to watch the leaves change colors, we are well aware of your affinity for Halloween. Every year, members of your constituency gather at bars, nightclubs, and house parties to celebrate this unique tradition. Invariably, during this time, news agencies release photographs coddled from social media, highlighting one of the esteemed members of your confederation dressed in blackface.

I know these incidents are a constant source of embarrassment, so I was invited as a guest speaker to inform you about my detailed plan to erase this annual smudge on the otherwise unblemished record of your noble group (cough, slavery, cough). Hopefully you will take this message and highlight it in your secret newsletter or handbook or whatever you use to disseminate quiche recipes, tips on ignoring the downbeat while dancing, Birkenstock coupons, and other valuable secret white-people information.

First, you should know why blackface is offensive. The practice began in the 1820s, when white entertainers in minstrel shows would paint their faces with burnt cork to mock black behavior. The most famous of these was the fictional character “Jim Crow.” I know many of you regard this name as the originator of ingenious bus-seating protocol and the man responsible for doubling the output of the water-fountain industry, but Jim Crow was the original blackface-wearer who reminded the white, post-Civil War ruling class of the danger of a free, unsuppressed Black populace. Knowing this tidbit of history, hopefully you will understand that every time you cover yourself in this reminder, it is difficult for anyone other than white people to find the joke, no matter how clever the costume.

Which brings us to my second point: As a symbol that you have moved past these racially offensive stereotypes, you should first seek to stop the manufacturers of whatever-you-use-to-blacken-your-skin-for-Halloween. I would not overstep my bounds by insinuating there are holes in the National White People Information Network, but the fact that so many of your kin slip through the Don’t Wear Blackface gap every year suggests that maybe you should think about cutting the offenders off at the source, and outlaw the purchase of blackface material.

By the way—where do y’all get blackface from, anyway? What is it made of? Is there a year-round collection service that stockpiles cork from the underground shindigs where you gather to enjoy bagpipe music and kale finger sandwiches? Is it just dark MAC makeup, or is it made in the same lab that created the Kylie Jenner lip-plumping process? Maybe it’s Maybelline. Maybe you were born with it. (Scratch that: You definitely weren’t born with it.) As a matter of fact—don’t answer any of that. If I found out about your sourcing, I’d be forced to reveal it at the next Black People Meeting, and I don’t need that kind of pressure. I just go so I won’t miss out on learning the latest line dance. But I nonetheless believe that discontinuing the product is a viable solution.

Here’s another way to curtail this treacherous practice: Your friends should speak up. If you really like your buddy Aidan, don’t let him pop up at the party dressed as the cop from the Village People. Nudge him towards being the cowboy. Or the one weird guy who just dressed in fetish leather. Be him, Aidan. He was white.

I’m not sure if the blackfacers apply the makeup in solitude, but I’m sure there are dozens of people who notice the blackface-costume-wearers long before they decide to immortalize themselves in Halloween history with a photograph. Maybe you could introduce a statute that requires the person at the door of all parties to automatically rescind the invitation of anyone wearing anything that renders their skin more than three shades darker. I know this would eliminate John Boehner from most of your soirees, but we have to make difficult choices sometimes.

This wouldn’t be too hard: Your coalition has already enacted similar laws against sagging pants, white T’s, and any other fashion worn by black boys under 18. Again, the world white web—I know there’s such a thing, it’s where the YouTube videos go that you just saw yesterday, but can’t be pulled up when your friends click on the link you forwarded them; I know y’all can still watch them, plus I heard y’all even get movies on White Netflix two weeks earlier—could easily spread a public-service message advocating shame as a useful tool.

Or at least stop them from using “some of my best friends are black” in their apologies. We know its not true, or your mea culpa would read more like, “Some of my best friends are black, which is why LaKeisha already kicked my ass for this.”

Furthermore, as proud a people as I know you to be, I have done the mathematical permutations and figured out that there are no less than 10,028,394 well-known white people for you to choose to dress up as before you have to jump to a costume that requires blackface. (And that number doesn’t include cartoon characters, animals, inanimate objects, and fictional beings.) You can have your pick of anything under the white umbrella, from Julius Caesar to the Ghostbusters to “that dentist who shot that lion”—why do you feel the need to be Kanye or Beyoncé? If you just have to do it, why not split the difference and go as Justin Bieber or Iggy Azalea? The options are limitless.

Finally, if all else fails, and one of your delegates happens to score some charred champagne cork, dress up as Wilona from Good Times, evade her friends, and sneak past the doorman at Applebee’s (I assume that’s where white people party, because y’all be smiling like a motherfucker in Applebee’s commercials), maybe your governing body (the Illuminati? Rick from The Walking Dead? the board of ExxonMobil?) could institute a no-camera rule at your Halloween celebrations as a last-ditch effort. I know Rebecca wouldn’t be able to take her selfies, but drastic times … .

In conclusion, my white friends, as a lifetime member of the Black Delegation, I beg of you to end this blackface madness this year. You’re better than that. It’s not that we are so appalled when our Twitter feeds are saturated every November 1st with a picture of our kids’ third-grade teacher double-fisting Miller Lites and covered in shoe polish—it’s that we are tired of going over this year after year. Seeing as you run the global banking system, the three branches of government, every significant media outlet, and 500 of the Fortune 500 companies, I know how difficult it must be to acknowledge that some things are off-limits.

Well, actually, I don’t know how that feels at all. But I bet it’s frustrating.

In any case, lets make 2015 blackface-free. (Uh, starting now.) Again, thank you for this time, white people. Black Lives Matter.

Aye, can one of y’all wrap up some of that quiche to go?

Michael Harriot is a journalist, poet, and host of the popular podcast The Black One, as well as the cohost of The StayWoke Show web series. He’s on Twitter, Instagram, and, too.

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