From America to China, blackface is a global problem

In the span of around two weeks, three U.S. politicians have admitted to using blackface at some point — prompting calls for them to resign. Only one of them has stepped down so far: Michael Ertel, a Republican who was recently appointed Florida’s secretary of state, resigned last month after photos emerged of his racist Halloween costume from 2005. In the photo, his face is painted black, and he is wearing a shirt that reads “Katrina Victim”, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, left nearly 2,000 people dead. Then, last weekend, a page emerged from the medical school yearbook of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), featuring a photo of one person dressed in blackface and another dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The governor flip-flopped over whether he was one of the costumed people in the photo, ultimately denying that he was. But he later admitted that he had used blackface on another occasion, when he dressed as Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. On Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) also admitted to wearing blackface, saying that when he was an undergraduate in 1980 he and his friends “dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup” to portray rappers at a college party. The incidents have drawn attention to the prevalence of blackface — a contentious issue that is not limited to the United States but has drawn controversy around the world. In recent years, the Netherlands has faced calls to eliminate a controversial, Christmastime character known as “Zwarte Piet”, or Black Pete. Historically, in November or December, the Dutch version of St. Nicholas, known as Sinterklaas, hands out gifts with helpers — typically people dressed in blackface.

Siobhán O’Grady in From America to China, blackface is a global problem (