Blackface: Past and present

Listen 49:29
This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him. (Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

Guests: Anthea Butler, Mark Tyler

The revelation that elected officials in Virginia had at one point worn or endorsed blackface in the recent past has caused us to grapple with its history and the demeaning message blackface represents. In the wake of these scandals, people are finding old college yearbooks that include white students in racist costumes that prove these were not isolated incidents, but a more common practice than commonly believed. And blackface is far from a relic of the past – students can still be found cosplaying as African-Americans at college parties today. Today on the show, we’ll examine the past and present of blackface, as well as the political firestorm surrounding Virginia’s Governor and State Senate Majority Leader. Joining us will be associate professor of religious studies at The University of Pennsylvania, ANTHEA BUTLER, and senior pastor at Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, MARK TYLER.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.