Posts Tagged ‘Political Corectness’

Blackface

February 5, 2019

What do you see when you look at this picture?

If you see a group of coal miners enjoying a drink in a bar after a hard day of backbreaking work in a dangerous coal mine, then congratulations, you are a sane, reasonable person. If, on the other hand, you see a group of White men in blackface, you might be as delusional as Rashaad Thomas, opinion contributor for azcentral who contributes his opinion on a recent experience in which he was offended by that picture on the wall of a restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. His opinion piece is titled, “Phoenix restaurant says this is a photo of coal miners. But I see offensive blackface”, which should say something about the quality of Mr. Thomas’s opinions.

A few weeks ago, I attended a holiday party at a downtown Phoenix restaurant. I walked around to view the photographs on the wall.

Then a photograph caught my attention.

Friends said, “It’s coal miners at a pub after work.” It was a photograph of coal miners with blackened faces. I asked a Latinx and white woman for their opinion. They said it looked like coal miners at a pub after work. Then they stepped back, frowned and said it’s men in blackface.

I asked the waitress to speak with a manager. Instead, I spoke with a white restaurant owner. I explained to him why the photograph was offensive. Evidently, someone else had made a similar comment about the photograph before.

Yet, the photograph remained on the wall. He said he would talk to the other owners and get back to me. While leaving, I asked him had he spoke with the other owners. He had not spoken with them, but mentioned Google said it’s coal miners after work.

Let’s make everything clear. This is a picture of a White man in blackface.

And this is a coal miner.

Now, both men have faces covered with a black substance, but the one man covered his face in black makeup to impersonate a Black man while the other happens to have black dust all over his face because coal mining is a dirty occupation and a miner is apt to emerge from the mine covered in coal dust.

But he goes on.

Who determines what’s offensive?

For me, the coal miners disappeared and a film honored for its artistic merit, despite being the most racist propaganda films ever, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) surfaces, in which white actors appeared in blackface. The white owner saw coal miners in the photograph. Therefore, it was not offensive.

It seems to me that it is the artist’s intent that matters, not what a particular viewer might think. No offense was intended, so no offense should be taken.

Fact: The photograph shows coal miners’ faces covered in soot. The context of the photograph is not the issue.

Viewers cannot determine the intention of an artist’s work. Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.

Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.

Each assumption is based on a stereotype. Blackface caricatures stereotypes of black people.

At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.

A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.

But it was not a picture of men in blackface. The idea that the picture says, “Whites only” or that people like him are not welcome is entirely a product of Thomas’s mind. No offense is intended but he is determined to be offended. The rest of us are not obliged to share his idiosyncratic interpretation, nor should we be required to appease the offended sensibilities of the most sensitive, or at any rate the most assertive and overbearing among us. That way lies madness.

Rashaad Thomas concludes.

The operators of that downtown restaurant can choose to take the photograph down, leave it up or create a title card with an intention statement. No matter their decision, I think the photograph should be taken down — sacrificing one image for the greater good.

I think the photograph should stay right where it is. It is rather presumptuous for Mr. Thomas to come into a business and demand that that they take down a picture on their wall because he happens to be offended when no offense is intended. I think the greater good would be best served if we all stopped looking for reasons to be offended. It might help if we stopped paying attention to the perpetually offended.

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Renaming Austin

September 22, 2018

The Equity Office of the city of Austin Texas believes that the city ought to change its name.

(CNN)The city of Austin was named after Stephen F. Austin, who is referred to as the “Father of Texas.” But a report released last week by the city’s Equity Office raised the issue that Austin had been a staunch supporter of slavery.

The issue noted by the city’s Equity Office has raised the possibility of renaming the city. The report released last week recommended renaming several streets and removing markers related to the Confederacy.

He “believed slave labor indispensable for Texas to flourish” and “believed that if slaves were emancipated they would turn into ‘vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.'” It also said that Austin sought to have slave owners compensated if their slaves were freed.

Austin’s name was included in a list of the city’s assets considered “not explicitly Confederate and/or Civil War related but were within the spirit of the resolution representing segregation, racism, and/or slavery.” The Equity Office had put together the list to be considered for further input from City Council. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the city will rename itself, but it has raised the possibility of looking further into this issue.

Who was Stephen F. Austin, is he really the Father of Texas and does he really deserve to have the capital of Texas named after him?

Stephen F. Austin was born in Southwestern Virginia on November 3, 1793. Austin’s family moved west when he was four years old and Stephen grew up in Missouri. Stephen Austin spent his early life in what was then the southwestern frontier, although his family sent him east to Kentucky to attend Transylvania University, where he graduated in 1810. Austin became a lawyer, landowner and politician, with only modest success.

Stephen F. Austin

While Stephen was struggling to rebuild his fortunes after the Panic of 1819, his father, Moses Austin, had acquired what was called an empresario grant from the Spanish government to establish a settlement in Texas, then part of the Spanish colony of New Spain. Moses Austin died in 1821 and Stephen Austin inherited his grant. Austin was unable to make use of his grant right away because Mexico had gained independence from Spain and it was uncertain whether the new Mexican government would honor any grants made by the colonial government. It was not until 1825 that Austin was able to lead the first three hundred families to Texas and establish his colony. Soon more settlers arrived and Texas became an autonomous province under its own American style laws, and customs.

New Spain

Over time, the Mexican government began to grow concerned over this autonomous community. They had expected that the Texans would learn Spanish and convert to Roman Catholicism, in short, to become Mexicans, but the Texans were showing no inclination to do so. Also, the Mexican constitution prohibited slavery and the Texans either pretended their slaves were indentured servants or simply ignored the prohibition altogether. The Mexican government started to exert its authority over the Texans and in 1835 the Texans rebelled.

Stephen Austin had tried to maintain good relations with Mexico, suppressing the 1826 Fredonian Rebellion, a precursor to the later Texas Revolution and supporting the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. He tried hard to persuade the Mexican government to change its policies regarding Texas while dissuading his countrymen from declaring independence. His efforts were unsuccessful and war broke out. Austin fought in the Texan Revolution and after Texas gained independence in 1836, Austin campaigned to be the president of the new republic. He lost to Sam Houston, who appointed him Secretary of State. Austin only served in that role for two months before dying of pneumonia on December 17, 1836.

So, it would seem that Stephen F. Austin’s reputation as the “Father of Texas” is well earned. There would seem to be no reason why the capital city of Texas shouldn’t be named after him, except that like many men of his class and time, he owned slaves. Even worse, Austin helped to introduce slavery into Texas and helped his fellow Texans to evade the Mexican prohibitions against slavery. Is Austin a villain then, to be anathematized?

It is only fair to note that Austin did have deep misgivings about slavery. He was aware that slavery was incompatible with the professed American values of liberty and equality. He was also concerned that in time the population of slaves would grow sufficiently large enough for a successful slave rebellion followed by a general massacre of their White masters. This was no idle concern on his part. This was precisely what had happened in Haiti and what Nat Turner would have done if he had not been betrayed. Yet, Austin could see no practical way to eliminate slavery in Texas or in the South generally. The settlers coming into Texas were from the slave states if they could not bring their slaves, they weren’t coming.

It is easy for us to condemn the slaveholder for not freeing their slaves. We don’t have to consider the practical concerns of emancipation. It was not as easy to free the slaves as we like to think. The slaveholders would have to be compensated. This may seem repugnant to us, but slaves were a considerable portion of a slave owner’s assets. They were cheap labor, collateral for loans, and in a pinch, could be sold for cash. Freeing the slaves would have meant impoverishing many of the slaveholders, and it is not reasonable to expect them to face that prospect with equanimity. There was also the question of what to with the former slaves. Most of the slaves were uneducated and unused to freedom. They had no property. Many only knew how to work in fields. To free the slaves while making no provision for them to make a living was no kindness. We can hardly blame the people of a century ago for failing to resolve such difficult questions. There is no reason to believe that we would be any better at resolving them. If slavery had continued to the present day, we would find it just as difficult to eradicate. Stephen F. Austin cannot be faulted for being a man of his own time.

I also have to wonder how far we are going to go with this. If it is inappropriate to name the capital of Texas after Austin because he owned slaves, what about the nation’s capital. George Washington owned slaves, so should we change the name of Washington D. C., along with the state of Washington? My hometown, Madison, was named after James Madison, and Jefferson County is named for Thomas Jefferson. Should these names be changed. If it is now taboo to celebrate the accomplishments of the men who owned slaves, it is going to be very difficult to honor the great men who founded this country. Perhaps that is really the point.

I think that we need to focus on building a better future together rather on the unpleasantries of the past. That is not to say we should forget or whitewash the past, but there is no point to bringing up old controversies over past circumstances we cannot change. It only serves to divide us and to turn Americans against one another. Maybe that is the point too. I would say that if we to make a better future, the first step would be getting rid of things like the Equity Office of Austin, Texas.


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