Fallacies in Blackface

And more RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES examples of the inability to think straight in our elected leaders and opinion makers. The quote below comes from a longer discussion about whether anyone should be offended by blackface, a discussion spurred by revelations of white politicians in blackface in yearbook photos. I myself have enormous difficulty trying to determine who gets offended by what, but that does not absolve me from making any offensive comment or action I choose with the expectation there will be no outraged reaction. The writer below appears to think he is the arbiter of what is offensive to all black people:

“Does it really make sense, does it really serve a purpose, to ban anyone ever putting on brown makeup as part of mimicking a person of color regardless of his or her intent? Must we really have it that a white person dressing as a black person must do it with his or her own pale skin on view? The likely outcome will be a tacit societal rule that black Americans are the only people in the country who are never to be imitated even in praise except by other black people. And what purpose would that glum, peculiar stricture serve?” asks John McWhorter (a person of color) in a recent essay in the Atlantic.

A common tactic of people who know they have no argument, or who know their position is weak, is to make up a claim no one has made, make it appear the other side has actually asserted such a claim, and then argue against it. This fallacy is called the Straw Man fallacy.

The Straw Man Professor McWhorter puts forward here is the idea that someone is proposing a ‘ban’ on blackface. The word ban carries a strong connotation of legality/illegality. No serious person has made such a proposal. Then, we start down the Slippery Slope (another fallacy) with McWhorter, leading to that horror of horrors: that “the likely outcome will be a tacit societal rule that black Americans are the only people in the country who are never to be imitated even in praise except by other black people.”

This is patently absurd given the cultural appropriation that has been well underway by white folk for a good long while now. It’s like arguing black jazz musicians must never be criticized by whites because the musicians are black. It is the argument of a dolt.

I graduated from high school in 1969. No one would have dreamed of publishing people in black face or KKK sheets (did you know the bedwetting racists wear rubber sheets?) or dressed up in Confederate uniforms in the yearbook–absolutely not. So the argument that this was “a thing, you know, that high school and college kids do sometimes, and, like, you know, everybody sort of did it, and, you know, it’s been a long time ago now” is a bunch of horseshit. My graduating class had just the year before (1968) watched Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. get shot. We didn’t need any reminders about what might be offensive. But thirty-forty years is the racism parabola in America. That seems to be all the longer it takes for the cycle to run it’s course, for the pendulum to swing from one side to the other. Sometimes even less. One last thing: I can’t believe that a school administrator would ever allow such things to be printed in their school’s yearbook. It’s disgraceful.

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, he has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer and has been a top-rated broadcaster.