Why people find a seemingly innocent act offensive


When I first looked at the picture of “blackface”, my first feeling was that of shock and repulsion.  I saw two ignorant white girls mimicking people who were not on the same social level as them, people who are destined to clean for a living being made fun of by girls who are in college, the first step to better opportunities. 

The position of the fun poker in relation to the poked is key to understanding the outrage felt and expressed by many.  When someone perceived as being in a position of power caricatures someone perceived as beneath them, it immediately becomes offensive.  This mimicking of the have nots by the haves, the perception of condescending mimicry is what inflamed anyone who has ever been negatively discriminated against or bullied.

While the dress up may have been for fun and with no harm intended, it points at the deeply rooted stereotypes that are still intensely embedded in out psyches.  Reading the (mostly white) comments on various forums, it is clear that these whites do not understand why this could be hurtful to a black person.  They want black people to laugh and get over it completely missing the fact that the reason for the outrage amongst black people is that it only cements what many non-white people think already.  That whites truly believe they are better than non-whites.  That whites are condescending.  That anything not according to white standards is to be looked down upon, caricatured and be laughed at. 

Black face was not about emulating someone else’s culture with respect.  It was not about looking up to another culture and trying to imitate it because it is perceived as a standard of beauty (i.e. the use of weaves and blonde hair and skin lightening products).  No, blackface was about laughing at domestic workers with their big bums and doeks on their heads, it was making fun in a way that you can only do if you do not have any respect for it.  Whether intentional or not, it is a mirror to the truth about what many people still believe.  These beliefs are so embedded in our very cells, both black and white, that we can’t even see it anymore. No one who has never experienced pervasive discrimination can ever understand the pain that something like that causes. 

Yes its been 20 years since democracy.  Yes non-whites have more freedoms and opportunities today.  But do you tell Jews to forget what happened to them in Nazi Germany more than 50 years ago? Do we expect white obese children who are bullied at school and grow up into white obese adults to laugh at the mimicry of fat people and just get over it?  Were black people expected to flip a switch in 1994 and forget about it?  Do you really think black people don’t experience discrimination and racism even today just because there are AA and BEE policies?  Have we really gelled together as a nation?  Is your social group truly mixed?  How then are South Africans of all races expected to laugh at something like that?

I am sometimes amazed at the brazen lack of any attempt by certain white people to understand this.  I am amazed at the blind ignorance shown on social networking sites by some white people.   It is this blatant lack of respect that perpetuates the racial divide.  The bottom line is this: As long as poking fun at others is done from a place of equality, there will be no issues. But when laughing at others is done from a deeply embedded belief in one’s own superiority, then the innocent fun is replaced by prejudice.

At the end of the day, it comes down to context and belief.  Those young girls are probably just innocently ignorant.  The bigger concern is all the educated adults who see no offense in that picture telling blacks to get over racism and grow up. 

Fanny Mc Pee 2014/08/08 02:46:34 PM
Oh get over it. Always the victim.
Susan Fraser 2014/08/08 02:46:46 PM
Well then I must be a racist too....I have been diagnosed with stage 5 kidney failure and find that wrapping a blanket around me keeps my kidney's nice and warm....and I tell all that I walk around like a lesotho lady and I am say it with pride...so this means I am a proud racist now put that in your pipe and smoke it....
Natalie Dickerson Gelonese 2014/08/08 02:53:55 PM
These girls were born when there was already a 'new' SA, or supposed to be, so again surely this should not even be mentioned...? Also there is more discrimination to the whites these days - BEE and the like. So maybe what we should all do is get over an innocent party and move on! Blacks mock us and call us 'Whities' too - just we don't all cause a scene, even when we do understand what you call us when you think we don't! So pull the log from your eyes before you tell me about the splinter in mine!
Chris May 2014/08/08 03:05:55 PM
Kindness didn't hurt anyone ever. Yes, we redheads (ok, and blondes as I read earlier) could be sensitive to what people say. It depends on how we feel. If we feel bad, we will take offence. I am not saying I do at all, but seeing how someone walks in their shoes sometimes makes one back off a bit and understand a bit more. That being said, the kids probably meant no harm - but they weren't wise enough to have empathy with the audience they would eventually reach - and reach it did, albeit without ill intent. Always have good heart and you can't go wrong.
Hennie de Ruyter 2014/08/08 03:17:13 PM
These girls have been expelled. To me that punishment is just revenge and will create just more ill-will. A far better punishment would have been to make them get up at 3:30am every day, catch 2 trains and a taxi, spend the day picking up clothes for spoiled kids and then get back home so late that there is not even enough hours left to sleep nevermind for family life. made them do it for a week or 2 and then write on the experience. This was an oppurtunity lost to get an insight in the lives of domestic workers. It could have been handled so much more mature.
SunshinyDay 2014/08/08 04:25:31 PM
OK people, are we adults here or are we children? If you cannot understand that what these two girls was not offensive then you shouldn't be on the internet. There are many, MANY more important things to get upset about, not two young girls who went to a dress up party. They painted themselves brown because they are white, if it was for the sake of the outfit what is the big deal. They put pillows in their skirts to make themselves look fatter, I know for a FACT Africans pride themselves in having larger figures so what is the big deal? It was all for the sake of the outfit. If they had to dress up like French maids would everyone be having such a hissy? No. These two dressed up like AFRICAN domestic workers. This is what they look like and it was not an insult. Should police get offended when girls dress like slutty cops for Halloween? Should clowns get offended when people dress up like them? No, so what is the difference here? Yesterday my husband told me he was called a goffel. I asked him was he offended, he said no because the man who called him that did not say it in a degrading context. Same here. Really, people need to get over this issue.
Wehr Wulf 2014/08/08 04:50:41 PM
"The bigger concern is all the educated adults who see no offense in that picture telling blacks to get over racism and grow up." Nope, no concern at all. It's time blacks grew up, mentally. Treating blacks differently to other races says they are weak, they need protecting, they are the 'special race'. Blacks should face these matters head on and hold their heads up high and ignore it. For other to do anything else is to be patronising and disrespectful, as if blacks are incapable of protecting themselves. That is the crux of the matter and where respect for a race is earned or lost.
Bungeni Maluleke 2014/08/08 05:23:56 PM
This is a wonderful article it thank you so much! I hope all whites read this careful word for word!
John Greystoke 2014/08/08 06:25:25 PM
Another article about blackface that say nothing new. Get another topic.
John Mackenzie 2014/08/08 10:25:17 PM
It seems even adults with degrees tend to be ignorant of the fact that Jesus said to forgive one another. People who enforce and endorse BEE or any system similar to that are themselves playing God. God said vengance is mine and that we are to love our neighbour. Any wonder why with such bitterness in our hearts our country is not being blessed. Its becoming a form of sodom and gomorra where mostly the evil and corrupt prosper. When will we truly drop all the bull and see people as God sees them...... as individuals. Then and only then can we truly call ourselves mature.