Digital Blackface Justified: When The Road to Hell is Paved With White Privilege Claiming Good Intentions

Add caption "PHOTO ABOVE-LEFT: Olympic Project for Human Rights button, worn 
by activist athletes in the 1968 Olympic games, originally called for a boycott
of the 1968 Olympic Games. PHOTO ABOVE-RIGHT: This iconic photo
 appears in many U.S. history textbooks, stripped of the story of the planned
 boycott and demands, creating the appearance of a solitary act of defiance".-
From "If We Knew Our History" By the Zinn Education Project 
  "Özrü kabahatinden beter" is a Turkish proverb meaning the apology is worse than the error.

I couldn't get that proverb out of my head after reading an article in the magazine "Good" about a German sports team's photograph in digital Blackface. The op-ed was a whitewashing justification for the incident, based on team assurances that this was done "in support" of their two African teammates.

Back in November of 2014, I wrote a blog post about the responsibilities of an ally against ableism for the blog The Autism Wars that included the images above. In that post, I noted that silver medalist Peter Norman joined gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos and wore the Olympic Project For Human Rights (OPHR) badge thus stood in solidarity with them as they protested with raised fists on the podium. What is critically important about the way Norman supported the gold and bronze medalists is he demonstrated his support without appropriation or diminishing the protestors. Norman was not thoughtless enough to raise his fist in the Black Power salute. He knew this would be inappropriate. This is the way a person allies themselves with a human rights cause if they are not the oppressed group. Had Mr. Norman appeared on the podium in Blackface saying he was supporting civil rights it would have been an insulting catastrophe and an international incident of a different sort.

Europe is quite familiar with what Blackface is, why it is wrong and has expounded extensively on many faux pas involving Blackface incidents occurring in the U.S. in the European press. Europeans know when an offense has been given to others, and when that offense has racist overtones. When the 2008 Spanish Basketball team decided to pose for a blatantly racist photographic ad for a sponsor which occupied a full page in Marca just before flying to China, Asian rights groups rightly complained, to which the team responded that the photograph was being "misinterpreted." Booed by the normally respectful Chinese fans and under a barrage of protests from activists, one player finally apologized. The entire debacle became international news and was covered by the New York Times. The idea that racial gaffes and outright racist insults are only the peccadilloes of Americans, and that Europeans are intuitively better at diversity is a myth that persists despite clear evidence to the contrary.

As I read Eric Pfeiffer's op-ed "Good Idea? German Football Players Don Digital Blackface in Act of Solidarity" I realized very quickly that the author was going to whitewash the incident of German players in digital Blackface by making it about the "good intentions" of the team defending their two Sudanese refugee teammates against racist bullying. Sure enough, Mr. Pfeiffer, who has no idea what it means to be Black and see a photograph like this one in this time of extreme global polarization along racial, ethnic, and religious lines because he is white, spent the entire piece trying to justify this incredible gaffe by listing horrific mistake Hollywood and celebrities have made, adding that Ted Danson screwed up while dating Whoopi Goldberg. That comment alone shows that Mr. Pfeiffer should not be writing about critical race studies issues. Dating someone of another race doesn't make you magically immune to racist behavior.
When the show of support is worse than the insult: German Team in
Digital Blackface

I'm not surprised Pfeiffer excused this team's digital Blackface. What I'm surprised about is a magazine like Good making the decision that it was ok to publish this. Because it is not. For so many reasons. There is no circumstance when Blackface is justified. We live in the information age. In every instance where similar debacles have come up extreme backlash has been the response and with good reason. No one white should be implying that good intent means oops but it's okay because a  white writer says the guys didn't mean in a bad way. There is no good way here. If a white athlete from Austrailia, a country with such a history of hate against its own racial and indigenous minorities, knew how to support Black people without giving offense in 1968 then so should a German football team in 2016.

It has become an uncomfortable habit in recent times to do the "live a day in the life of the oppressed" displays and it isn't going well. Reporters donning hijabs, church groups grabbing camping equipment and camping on city sidewalks overnight so they can "feel what it means to be homeless." Age suits to help us "feel" what it is like to be old for a day. Well, guess what? They can't be those people by pretending to be them for a moment or a day or a month. Pretending to be, then appropriating that limited moment to run one's own agenda is wrong.

Blackface is wrong.

The entire ally concept is wrong here. Justifying this will not help the refugees on the German team who are being victimized, nor will it get their white teammates the racial and cultural sensitivity education they clearly need.

Whatever this was, it was not support of their teammates.  Mr. Pfeiffer should know this. Moreover, Good Magazine should too.

Shame on Good for publishing this.  I really have to rethink what I read from now on.



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