September 20, 2011

ASU Students in Black Face Cheer On Football Sun Devils – Racist or Just Insensitive?

Arizona State University fans turn out for the first game in blackface.

When Arizona State University unveiled its new Nike-endorsed uniforms last week, everybody was really worried how the all-black outfits would fare in the Arizona heat. That is, until a few ardent fans showed up to the first Sun Devils game in blackface, either forgetting or ignoring hundreds of years of racial tension and American history.

Granted, ASU asked for it – they invited their fans to “come dressed in black” to the season’s first game, and a Facebook campaign rallied students to “black out” the stadium.  While only a handful of students (and by all accounts female students) went so far as to paint their faces black, the event has earned Arizona some unflattering associations with The Jazz Singer.

Culled from ESPN’s coverage of the game, the image above is particularly grotesque for the stark contrast between the female student’s white-blonde hair and her black face paint.  Despite covering her lips with the paint, the open-mouthed, white-toothed grin that the camera captured is all-too reminiscent of historic blackface routines. (Here’s an slightly different crowd shot here.)

Perhaps this wouldn’t be so controversial if the university in question weren’t located in a state already earning itself a reputation for intolerance and insensitivity (with Sherrif Joe Arpaio on duty and immigration law SB1070 on the books), and if ASU hadn’t caught flak in 2009 for denying President Obama their customary honorary degree.

While I was initially inclined to give the kids the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they (sadly) “didn’t know better,” Robert Littal astutely points out in his post to BlackSportsOnline, that the pre-game discussion on the ASU forum reveals at least some awareness of the cultural implications of blackface.

Though many of the comments are in characteristically teenage poor taste (user Devilstyle notes that “the only people that would have problems with [blackface] are idiot morons”), the students largely seem to wonder what makes the color black so taboo.  Apparently these youngsters, now two generations from the civil rights movement, simply feel like race “isn’t an issue anymore” – which strikes me as the more pervasive and invisible racism of the 21st century.  Dr. Boyce Watkins blames it on education, and I’m inclined to agree – particularly given user Devilution’s assertion that ” Being called a racist is a badge of honor these days… [it] has less to do with skin color than with expressing a different opinion.”

— Cate Blouke

(screengrab: ESPN)

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Cate Blouke
See other posts by Cate here.

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