Letter: Blackface displays lack of racial respect at NU

Kellyn Lewis

Northwestern community: It is time we realize the significance of our actions. It is time every person becomes conscious of the effects his or her behavior has on an entire community of people. I am writing about the incessant and continuous racialized demonstrations of authority and dominance presented by the entire NU community and our society at large.

The most recent incident, the cause for this letter, was on the night of Oct. 31, Halloween, when certain white members of the NU community dressed up as black people. In an attempt to resemble a black person, someone painted his entire body black.

If you do not know the history of these actions, all you need to know is one word to understand the disgusting behavior this person embodied – that word is blackface. Blackface has, surprisingly enough, been on this campus before. Two years ago, a very similar incident occurred, pointing to the lack of insight of the people in the NU community to make a conscious movement toward combating race problems.

In our modern era, the history of blackface continuously goes unnoticed and unchallenged, and I am taking this opportunity to bring it to light. It extends back to the roots of slavery when white actors would paint their faces black and lips red or white during minstrel shows to mock the physical appearance African Americans. The fact that blackface is still being used points to the lack of character of not only those that took part in the despicable behavior. It also points to those around them for their lack of agency, individuality and character to stand up against this person and tell them to remove his black paint.

We as a community must take the responsibility to defy the oppressive nature of our past if we are ever to move past notions of race. This act was not merely an act of discrimination or even racism; it highlights the severe need of a society to face demons of its past AND present to make a new journey.

Images like these not only serve to dehumanize all members of the black community at NU and abroad, but it points to the lack of respect for one’s peers and illuminates a mentality held by a multitude of people at NU. The humor attempted by the situation is merely a facetious attempt to mask the underlying notions of race and packages the disgusting behavior into a loathing, satirical state of mind, exploiting the lack of a black student body on this campus while using the advantages privilege has given certain communities on campus.

The incident shows this person lacks the conviction and grounding to recognize there are other people at this University, and he also feels comfortable enough – meaning, more specifically, there would be no repercussions or consequences for his actions – to walk around and mock an entire population of people within the very closed, ignorant, arrogant, privileged world that NU seems to give to its community.

We must realize everything we do is a statement. Everyone in this community must recognize the inexcusable actions of our peers. Everyone must realize these acts cannot be dissociated from an oppressive, racist American past or from the seemingly benign racial state we live in. It is all connected.

We shouldn’t forget a student last academic year felt the effects of (alleged) racial profiling by the NU Police Department; more importantly, that was this year, the year 2009. We shouldn’t forget the fact that there have been many other unnoticed incidents of racial discrimination on this campus with not only black men, but also with black women, and Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples as well.

Everyone must take a collective stand, as progressions can’t be made if we’re separate forever.

– Kellyn LewisWeinberg sophomorePolitical action committee co-head and graduate & alumni liaison, For Members OnlyMember, Coalition of Colors

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