Blackface dates back to the 1800s, professor explains racist implications

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 7:30 PM EST
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - A viral photo of a Homestead High School student depicting blackface has sparked controversy at the schools about it’s racist implications.

Students at Homestead High School protested Thursday morning in reaction to a now-viral photo of a student in blackface. A letter sent to parents says a “highly offensive” post from a current student there is circulating on social media.

Thursday morning, a student at the school started a livestream on Instagram, showing dozens of students participating in an apparent protest in the school’s auditorium.

Indiana University professor of African American and African Diaspora studies Dr. Jakobi Williams says the use of blackface dates back to the 1800s and it has highly racist roots.

Williams says blackface was first used in 1880 when white men would use different methods to paint their skin black, usually using burnt cork. He says the men would do this for entertainment purposes, like in the theater. Williams says the use of blackface sparked a lot of deep rooted, and highly offensive, stereotypes of Black Americans.

Williams says the use of those stereotypes still exist today, which is why the current use of blackface is so offensive.

He says he’s been working with schools and educators across the country to get more African American history into school curriculums. Additionally, he says he’s been working to get Indiana high schoolers to be able to take advanced placement courses on Black history.

“Schools need to bring in scholars and professors like myself and others in the region to get the students informed,” Williams said. “Sometimes students may not understand the deep rooted implications of using blackface.”

Williams explains that the lack of education in schools is a major problem across the country. He believes racial acts like this could be prevented if there was more education in schools about Black history or diversity, equity and inclusion.

“In this particular episode, it harkens back to all those old tropes of violence, lynching, civil rights, discriminations, trying to overcome oppression,” he said. “It brings back all that old racial baggage.”

He says he applauds the students at Homestead High School for standing up for this injustice and voicing their opinions to school leaders.