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‘Race Is Not a Costume’

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“Any collective reckoning with racism that comes out of this moment must go beyond the personal and offensive,” Jamelle Bouie writes in his column, “Blackface Is the Tip of the Iceberg,” which talks about the implications of a photo on the 1984 medical school yearbook page of Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, showing one man in blackface and another in a Klansman’s robe and mask.

More than 900 readers responded to the column. Some acknowledged their ignorance of the racism inherent in the practice, while others argued that it was simply a byproduct of a different time in America’s cultural growth. Other readers referenced the pain, and sometimes fear, the image evoked in them, or pushed back against those who minimized the insidious nature of blackface and other similarly degrading practices.

As Lisa F. Shaftel, a reader from Framingham, Mass., put it: “Blackface is not a costume; race is not a costume. That some people don’t understand this, is racism.”

We’ve shared a selection of these comments below. They have been edited for length and clarity.

I was a black student at U.Va. in the early 1980s and recall vividly being chased one night by two people in Klan regalia through the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I also remember seeing derogatory racist images tacked on telephone poles announcing fraternity bashes.

Will the United States ever reckon with the history that blackface represents? To reckon would require accountability. Thus far, it would seem that it’s exactly the wrong kind of accounting on the balance sheets of great wealth and power — accrued through slavery and its aftermath — that matters most. — Mabel Wilson, Harlem

Here’s the bottom line: White people do not want to see what black people experience. If they did, they would only have to look. It is a searing experience to feel the vulnerability and hurt that black people feel, and to realize that racism is a constant in their lives. Once white people really see it, they would not be able to abide it in any form — the mocking of people’s skin color, mannerisms or cultural differences. They’d become sick of it, at the stupidity of it, of the terrible cost and waste of humanity. And it would become very clear that anyone who thinks blackface is entertaining is not only tone deaf, but truly racist and should not be rewarded with a political position of any........

© The New York Times