August 5, 2021

"While some have questioned the university’s use of the term 'blackface,' and whether such a definition is solely limited to using makeup on one’s face..."

"... the university used the term as it is often used by historians — comedic performances of ‘blackness’ by whites in exaggerated costumes and makeup. Regardless of how one views this particular definition, it does not change the nature of the underlying conduct."

So said the president of California Lutheran College, Chris Kimball, quoted in "They Were Accused of Wearing Blackface. Now They’re Suing Their College" (Chronicle).

You need to be careful when you're putting highly defamatory labels on your students. You should worry about lawsuits, and you should also worry about the welfare of the young human beings who are in your charge. It is sloppy and reckless to use a term that has a specific meaning where the specific meaning does not apply and to argue — when you are called on it — that there is also broader meaning. 

Kimball used the term "blackface" against students who had done nothing to darken their skin and had put on blonde curly wigs — what they're calling "Napoleon Dynamite" wigs. 

To say "blackface" against your students, when there was no blackening of the face is like calling them "whores" when there is no prostitution — because some people use the word "whores" just to refer to women who are sexually active. 

ADDED: The students did a performance of the "Fresh Prince" theme song. Are young white people getting the message that they should never sing songs associated with black people? Never do dances that originated with black dancers? Never dance to music performed by black musicians? Or is it just don't demonstrate your enjoyment enthusiastically? Be sure to maintain whiteness as you sing and dance? Who can understand these rules? But how nefarious of oldsters to impose these rules on the young! These mysterious rules. And isn't it awful to have confusing, mysterious rules that you can only be sure you'll avoid breaking by restricting and restraining your speech and behavior? It doesn't take a real disease to send us into lockdown.


Ann Althouse said...

Temujin writes:

"I would think they'd be brought up on charges for impersonating a Jew with that hair. I'm shocked, I tell you. It's clearly not blackface. If it was, they could be running for Governor of Virginia, or hosting a late-night talk show out in LA instead of haggling with university administrators."

Ann Althouse said...

mikee writes:

Regarding university administrators and their responses to students' social misbehavior:

In the 1980s, at my small, southern, Baptist-affiliated liberal arts college an unusually strong winter storm left 3 inches of snow on the ground, an almost unheard of event. A fraternity immediately used the snow outside the administration building, directly outside the windows of the office of the university president, to build both giant Dolly Partonesque snow breasts and an erect, 6' tall, snow-white male member.

When asked about the students' (mis)behavior, our worldly-wise and much-more-sensible-than-today's university president stated, "This is South Carolina. That snow will melt by 3pm." And that was the end of that.

I, for one, often have recalled that wise man's handling of this misdeed, potentially devastating to one and all at the university. It has helped me ignore all sorts of idiocy by my coworkers, family members, and society at large that was best left ignored. Would that more would follow this method of de-escalation of feigned outrage.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul writes:

"*This* Lutheran would like to know when the President of California Lutheran (lovely campus, BTW) forgot Luther's admonition to "sin boldly, that grace may abound!" I'm missing the grace in this scenario."