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Blackface, white mask: Racism as psychosis

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28.02.2019

One more time, as if we needed any more evidence, the depth of the incurable racism at the heart of American society, culture, and politics has come on full display. The Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, recently acknowledged he appeared in an old yearbook photo showing one man wearing a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) costume and another donning blackface.

The governor did not elaborate which one would have been more offensive to human decency - to pose as a member of the racist KKK or to mock and ridicule the victims of the KKK.

He, however, is not the only high-ranking Democratic Party official with such illustrious racist history. Shortly after Northam scandal erupted, Mark R Herring, attorney general of Virginia and a member of the Democratic Party, also admitted that he had worn blackface at a college party.

Although both Northam and Herring both apologised, there are quite a few American politicians who see nothing wrong with blackface. For example, when former Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind faced criticism in 2013 for wearing blackface and an Afro wig at a Jewish holiday Purim party, he called it "political correctness to the absurd".

But it's not just the American political class that has a penchant for racist costumes, Hollywood to enjoys featuring them in its films. There is also a long list of Hollywood productions in which blackface has figured prominently: from "Birth of a Nation" (1915) all the way to "Tropic Thunder" (2008).

Indeed, the US as a whole has a long and sustain history of white men wearing blackface to mock, ridicule, and denigrate black people which goes back to the 19th century and which, as we see, is still perfectly alive and well.

But its present-day form and resurgence demonstrate not only the persistent racism within the American society, but also the existential crisis........

© Al Jazeera