• Blackface: Confronting One’s Integrity in the Past

    February 6, 2019

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy


     
    We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    If you worked in Asia in the 1980s or earlier, you likely remember a popular toothpaste called, sadly, Darkie. It featured a caricature of a black-faced minstrel performer on the label, with shining white, white teeth.

    I have an old Polaroid photo of a very young American diplomat from that era, now a senior official, dressed as that logo, complete with blackface and a top hat, from a long-ago Halloween party. Others present were dressed as local characters, logos, kind of a theme. One person was done up as the Frito Bandito, a caricatured portrayal of Mexicans. The black-faced diplomat was not a racist then and is not now, actually has done some important things for the State Department at some personal risk in terms of getting it to treat its people better. Most today would describe him as “woke.”

    Yet I am sure the NYT, or if not them, TMZ, would rush to publish the photo and the diplomat would be pressed to resign. His career would be impacted, his decent work stopped, and none of that would have a whit of any effect on racism in America. Unspoken is the idea that the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who is doing good things today. You just know something more about one evening long ago that now seems to matter so much when it doesn’t matter at all.

    I have no intention of revealing the photo from three decades ago. But we live in miserable times for this kind of thing when judging someone based on 30 years of their life seems to make less sense than picking something from 30 years ago and ignoring everything else since.
     
    Our society’s current solution is to selectively allow offenders to apologize, often accompanied by a sizable donation to some appropriate charity. Kevin Hart was offered the chance with hosting the Oscars as his prize, Louis C.K., not so much. Al Franken’s time came too soon; today he’d likely be let off by the mob with a heartfelt mea culpa; one can see the tears behind those smug glasses.

    But overall the idea of apologizing as a work-around is a bit of a strawman, a cheap trick to somehow drag the discrete events of the past into the present day — well, he did XYZ in 1984, but he continued not to apologize for the last 35 years! And it offers the mob another chance to judge; see, it’s about something happening today (the apology) and not an event from when TV was in black and white! Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear.

    Anybody can say they’re sorry, especially under the gun of the social media-regular media mob that passes judgement on these things. What might make more sense is to look for are amends, what someone has done with their life since some bad thing. Are you a better person? Are you still espousing racism? What have you done with the years? Oh, but that’s complicated. Easier to snarl at a old photo and tweet.
     
    Inside the world of security clearances, where practicality often still overrules mob shoutdowns, standards have evolved. When I joined the State Department during the Reagan era, you could not get a clearance if you admitted to smoking a joint, and you certainly could not be cleared if you admitted to being gay. Same for holding significant debt, which supposedly made you vulnerable to Russian spy payoffs. Heavy drinking? Well, that was almost part of the job description and was generally overlooked. It got to the ridiculous point where only good liars, people from strict religious backgrounds, and folks who could hold their liquor could pass.

    If today was debt was a show stopper the vast majority of young applicants, with their massive student loans, would be denied clearances. Limited illegal drug use in the past is not a problem in most cases, and we all know of the 180 degree change on LGBT status. There are still showstoppers in the clearance process (having relatives in “bad” countries is a huge issue as more and more first generation Americans, some with critical language skills, seek clearances,) but the emphasis is now on holism, a long view of a person’s life that looks for trends and patterns instead of hyper-focusing on singularities.

    Few claim Northam in blackface is a good thing. The real question is at what point do we judge, a single point in the past or the sum of a man’s life. I don’t know much about his work in the last 35 years, but that seems a more reliable indicator of how he’ll serve as governor (the actual issue) than a photo from whenever. Northam resigning does not erase racism of the past, and it does nothing practical about racism today. He just joins the crowd of those sacrificed at the altar of identity politics, a feel-good to the many who only seem to have realized these issues exist since Trump was elected.
     
    See, it is not like this issue of how the past affects the present is new; we’ve just resolved it more practicaly in other iterations. How many states are seeking to allow felons to vote again? Parole, expungement, time served — people who have committed actual crimes, even murder, get to a point where they can move on.

    Our tolerance for illegal drugs has followed a similar path. Decades ago, Bill Clinton was confronted with accusations he smoked marijuana. To save himself, he came up with the line that while he may have once held a joint to his lips, he never actually inhaled (Clinton would employ similar word play later in his career over whether a blow job constitued sex.) Fast-forward to candidate Barack Obama, who early on casually admitted to smoking weed, and even experimenting with other drugs. The public response? Meh. People grow, people change, that was then.

    The alternative is to allow the mob greater control. With Facebook turning 15 years old today, politicians on the rise will find more and more of their pre-celebrity lives documented. Will we band together online to hunt down every person who ever did anything wrong and drive them out of home and job in some Great Cleansing? What happens when definitions of “wrong” morph? Is such a mob vetting likely to bring better people into government, or send them running?

    Unspoken is the idea the same guy who wore blackface then is the same guy who was elected by the people of Virginia now and, until about a week ago, apparently well-thought of by them. We all just know something more about his past that powerful forces are seeking to drag forward into the present and claim represents a different man. We live in the age when one’s past is dragged up to confront one’s integrity in the present.
     
    We don’t want to talk about Brett Kavanaugh, but there are elements that awkwardly pair with the Northarm story. What really happened decades ago? Are we learning about those events now accurately and unemotionally, or are they being spoon-fed through a ready tablodized media for partisan political ends?

    How were the Kavanaugh accusations, uncorroborated and in some instances refuted by other witnesses, more in line with #BelieveWomen than those now directed by a woman at the Virginia Lieutenant Governor but labeled as a political smear by his supporters? Yet in one case it was presented as enough to derail a Supreme Court nomination and in another it is dismissed as a political smear, spiked by a partisan Washington Post who basically said to the victim “Honey, time to take one for the team, we’re not running this an causing a Democrat to lose this election. Now, did Judge Kavanaugh ever lay a hand on you?”

    And not a single 2020 Democrat has commented on Fairfax, though pretty much all have condemned Northam. Meanwhile, in the hearings to replace Kavanaugh in his old job, Democrats hyperfocus not on the nominee’s years on the bench, but on her now-politically incorrect articles written by the nominee in the 1990s, containing what they label as anti-feminist advice such as “a man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We’ll leave judging the actual usefulness of such advice to those with daughters reading this.

    Now imagine the potential for what we awkwardly call blackmail should an unscrupulous lobbyist confront a politician with some old photos, asking for a political favor. Need we demand candidates hand over their yearbooks along with their old tax forms as a bulwark against social media mob justice?
     
    This is about the future, not Ralph Northam. How did the very serious business of #MeToo end up a political tool? How did we get to a place where old yearbook photos may overturn an election? Why are we accepting this as the way we’re conducting our democracy?

      

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      If only there was a video of prostitutes peeing on a mattress…

      02/6/19 10:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      “We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.”

      Oh, you mean like the illegal alien workers Trumpie hired to work cheap on his golf courses? Cheap asses like Trump – not the lack of a 2000 mile concrete wall – are the reason there is an illegal alien population in this country.

      But let’s forget about that, cause it’s in the past, right?

      02/8/19 2:18 PM | Comment Link

    • Karl Kolchak said...

      3

      I understand what you are saying, but my attitude is one of zero tolerance for this stuff when it comes to Democrats and liberals (full disclosure, I’m not a Republican and consider myself s leftist on most issues). The Dems were the ones who began under Clinton to campaign on identity politics after they started taking money from Wall Street and big corporations and began to stab the workers and middle class in the back. Nowadays most Dems, and this certainly true of Northam, claim that they are so much better that the Reps, who are evil old misogynists and racists.

      So long as Dems and Hillary Clinton corporatist liberals continue their charade of identity politics, I will continue to demand their ouster and humiliation.when these things happen. When they get serious about helping the people who are supposed to be their base, maybe THEN we can start talking about apologies and mea culpas.

      02/9/19 1:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      To recap: blackface bad, redskin, no problemo.

      02/9/19 9:31 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      To be fair, any black person who yelled racist names like redskins should be DQed too.

      02/9/19 9:50 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      The difference is the white guy did this in 1984, and these hypocrites are still using the racist redskins slur.

      02/9/19 10:06 PM | Comment Link

    • chucknobomb said...

      7

      For Black History Month did Amy Klo vote for anti BDS laws?

      02/11/19 8:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Since the taxpayers of Virginia, DC and Maryland have subsidized the Racist Redskins in one form or another, perhaps it should disqualify every person in those states from holding office. They should have known better.

      02/11/19 5:50 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      Blackeye: confronting one’s integrity in the past

      “We live in an age when one’s past is dragged up by those with ill intent to confront one’s integrity in the present.”

      Our History is a blackeye bitch. Let US not forget, so we can repeat our mistakes, like how you start a war, or at least keep one going. It is called deception, or, when carried out by a state actor, a false flag in that the event is capable of being misinterpreted or mis-attributed to produce a desired result. There have been numerous deception operations throughout history used to start wars. The battleship Maine was not blown up by the Spaniards in Havana Harbor in 1898, but it served as a useful pretext to start a war that stripped Spain of its colonies. The Zimmerman telegram in World War I was a phony, but it helped bring the U.S. into the war against Germany. More recently there were the two Gulf of Tonkin incidents, both lies, which dramatically increased American involvement in Vietnam. And one should not forget the largely fabricated humanitarian and national security arguments made to attack Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

      So this is about our future. Iran, Venezuela, Syria, you name it, we can fake it.

      02/12/19 9:02 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Meanwhile in Bizarro World, we fake outrage when some inbred Saudi prince decides two can play that game.

      02/12/19 9:58 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      Blackface, redface, pussyface, orangeface

      You can change the color of the clown’s face, but never the stripes. Trumpie was and always will be a failed businessman.

      02/13/19 8:57 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      12

      Bauer- You are a clueless asshole. Get your own site and stop piggybacking on PVB’s blog. You should be extremely ashamed.

      02/13/19 1:46 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      13

      JP,

      Welcome back. The party has just started. Mr. Orangeclown’s circus is crashing down.

      02/13/19 2:18 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      14

      JP,

      Let Moscow Mitch know We miss him, and that he is forgiven.

      02/13/19 2:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      15

      JP,

      If you are a deadskin racist fan, karma is a bitch, nicht wahr? The team will be lucky to win five games next year. Couldn’t happen to a crappier owner.

      02/13/19 2:25 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      16

      JP,

      Peter is very sensitive about banning people. Those twits in Twitterland should be ashamed.

      02/13/19 3:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      17

      “How did we get to a place where old yearbook photos may overturn an election? Why are we accepting this as the way we’re conducting our democracy?”

      Because we are the Dumbest Country on the Planet?

      Meanwhile, Amazon made $16.8 billion in profits over the past two years but have paid ZERO in federal income taxes. In fact, it got a $269 million tax refund,” Sanders, a likely 2020 presidential candidate, wrote in a tweet. “Our job: Demand large corporations pay their fair share in taxes so that we can rebuild the disappearing middle class.”

      It’s not the first time that Amazon has drawn scrutiny for its tax practices. Last year, the company drew in more than $5.6 billion in profits, but paid no federal income taxes. At the time, the company said it was largely attributable to “excess stock-based compensation deductions” and the effect of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

      But no blackface…

      02/14/19 8:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      18

      Republicans get shitfaced

      2021- Because of the Russian-US peace treaty Donald Trump engineered before he was escorted off to prison for pocketing $300 million dollars in a money laundering scheme, the new Democratic President, citing the Trump national emergency precedent funding of the Mexican Wall at the expense of the Defense Dept, declared a national health emergency and diverted half of the Defense Dept Budget to a Medicare for all plan. Citing the Trump Russia peace treaty, the Democratic president decided the Medicare health plan was a more pressing emergency. Republicans, a minority in the House and Senate, were shitfaced.

      02/14/19 10:08 PM | Comment Link

    • Chuck Nasmith said...

      19

      U.S. and other Drone Kings are War Criminals. Wage Peace. No Blood For Oil. Hands off Venevuela. Get to your street Feb. 23, and Have a nice day if you wage peace. Otherwise…Fuck You.

      02/15/19 3:40 PM | Comment Link

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