On Blackface Politicians

My mother’s family is from the Shenandoah Valley. My grandfather was a Judge and my uncle a prominent attorney. Many live there to this day. I understand they or their ancestors owned slaves in the early years, but others participated in the underground railroad. That was the past.

We also have to consider that the world of 1860 or 1970 is not today. We live by and are expected to conform to far different, and I like to think higher, more tolerant, and less tolerant standards, yes, different standards than in the past.

When I worked in Texas in the ’70s, men treated women abominably by today’s standards. Sexual harassment was common, misogyny, homophobia, and racism were the rule of the day. Many men, especially executives did not type–it was beneath them. They did not make coffee, or worry about inappropriate touching. The word “inappropriate” did not enter the vocabulary of society for another decade. We told off-color jokes, commented on women’s clothing and breasts and butts at any opportunity. And the women just took it or quit. The good-ole-boys in Texas back then were also racist, homophobic and intolerant of progressive ideas and made those who advocated for them a pariah.

When I moved to the west coast in 1986, I was immersed in a very different world. It was like I had moved forward in time three decades–while Texas was stuck in the ’50s, Redmond was in the late ’80s. In those days, I made some mistakes and I still do. Yes, as people who live around me know, I still make insensitive remarks, but some inner voice tells me I’m wrong, and I’m trying to do better. Perhaps that voice was there back in Texas, but it was being shouted down by the misogynist, homophobic, and racist noise all around me.

As to the politicians in Virginia partying in blackface, consider that many of them did not know how hurtful it was. They (and I) did not know that this derived from minstrel shows (think Al Jolsen in the ’20s) and that even Micky Mouse was drawn as a minstrel character–the white gloves are a sign of this costume meant to characterize black men and women and pander to the growing Jim Crow crowds of the post-war eras. By the ’70s, fifty years later, perhaps some of those memories had passed, but I expect that some still used these costumes to intentionally degrade blacks with evil intent. But again, that was a different time. Today, it’s totally unacceptable. Now we know and it’s wrong.

I could never run for political office as my past is also checkered with things I don’t talk about which happened back in my early years. But this is not about me. It’s about men and women we elect whose job it is to represent others–other white men and women and those of color. To represent gays, straights, and those in-between. To represent the old and the young, and those born in the state and those who came in later. If voters sincerely believe these are men and women of honor and can represent their interests given their colored (so to speak) past, then I suggest we let them continue to prove it by their deeds and not be quick to judge them on the people they were decades ago. And yes, this is something the people of Virginia should decide. The media and the rest of the nation will have to live with their decision–it’s theirs to make.

Bill

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