(Ed. note – SLC Dunk first reported the blackface mishap Sunday afternoon)
Since Halloween fell on a crummy Thursday this year, Americans in the Hallow’s Eve spirit dressed up on Saturday night for parties. One particular costume caused a bit of embarrassment for the Utah Jazz. Deadspin has the relevant information and images.
Basically, two white men decided to go as John Stockton and Karl Malone. No skin-altering application was done for “Stockton”, but the “Malone” character slapped on some paint to tan his skin to a darker shade of brown. Chromatically speaking this process didn’t constitute “blackface” since the white man did not actually become as dark as the night. But in a cultural sense, it definitely constituted blackface.
As Deadspin noted, the Jazz apologized for the tweet, since ” it may be insensitive.”
We have no idea if the two Jazz men directly intended to disparage, humiliate, or mock African-Americans. In fact, my own sense is that they probably didn’t have that type of animus at the moment. Nonetheless, the process of a white man “becoming” a black man by applying paint is a racially charged act.
For the Utah Jazz to understand why the act “may be insensitive” one need look no further than “The Jazz Singer”:
That’s the historical anchor weighing down any white person in 2013 trying to transform their self into a black person.
It was considered entertaining for a white performer to smear themselves in shoe polish, paint a wide-bright ring around their mouth to simulate over-sized lips, and sing old songs about “mammies” to all-white crowds. Mammies, of course, were enslaved black women who had the task of raising the children of their white owners. There are deep, anguished layers of racism, discrimination, and abuse that can’t be disenthralled so easily.
There are far worse examples to cite of blackface in action (Birth of a Nation anyone?), but The Jazz Singer suffices. Nothing more needs to be said on this topic , except NBA team twitter accounts should probably employ people with a larger sense of cultural perspective, so that embarrassments like this don’t happen.
PS – Echoes of an Era is a great all-star jazz ensemble fronted by Chaka Khan in the early 80s. Check it out!