A book released about the historical origins of “blackface”

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“Blackface” is about the historical origins of blackface and its impact on today’s society, especially in the media and film industry. The book was released in April and goes into how blackface became normalized, and why so many people (ranging from actors to politicians) have gotten away with using blackface, and why there are not as many examples of people of color and whiteface. One of the chapters even talks about George Floyd. We talked with the Author of the book Ayanna Thompson. She is an Arizona State University Regents Professor of English and the Director Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

We talked about the correlation between the killing of George Floyd and “blackface”. She said she thinks that blacks are dehumanized with blackface, and it relates to the dehumanization of black people in real life. We talked about Chauvin’s guilty verdict and if it changed the narrative. She said it is a start. She hopes there is a new narrative moving forward, but it is probably too soon to tell. 

She talked about the history of ‘blackface’. Many think it started in the 19th century. She explained it started a long time before that. She said all of the plays from Shakespeare’s lifetime that include characters of color would have been performed using facial prosthetics like makeup, wigs, fake noses, and more.  

She discusses an example of her son dressing up as William Shakespeare when he was in Elementary School in 2012. Students in his class were showing up that had painted their face black. Her son did not even think of painting his face white. The book goes into why white children thought about it and why black children did not. She said the book is really an investigation of why. She explains some of those reasons and said some of them are due to entitlement. 

Ayanna Thompson/Author & ASU Regents Professor of English & Director Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

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