Why blacking up as a Civil Rights pioneer is just not okay
July 24, 2012 2:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I explain to someone in the UK that "blacking up" as Tommie Smith is not acceptable?

The sport I participate in is having an Olympic Opening Ceremonies party on Friday with a retro Olympics theme. People are encouraged to dress up as their favourite Olympians. Should be fun, right? But, as we know, fancy dress in the UK can very well wind up delving into the deeply offensive (see, for example, Prince Harry).

So, one of the (white) women attending has announced in an email that she plans on "blacking [herself] up as Tommie Smith" in an email. I was shocked and horrified - as far as I'm concerned this is unacceptable in the first instance but even more unacceptable given Tommie Smith's role in the civil rights movement. I tried to deal with this gracefully, emailing back indicating that "you're kidding, right??". Sadly, she's not.
"Nope not at all!! It's meant to be our favourite Olympian right, and tommie smith is mine - not my fault I'm a white female an he's a black male - he's a courageous believer in human rights and is the reason I began my journey in sociology of sport. Besides I've met the guy and he'd be cool with it im sure!"
So, Metafilter, where do I even begin? I don't have a good relationship with this woman and it wouldn't surprise me if she wound up 'blacking up' just to spite me. That being said, I do want to do something about it. This whole situation is offensive, clearly unacceptable, and I can't imagine Tommie Smith would ever be cool with it.
posted by lumiere to Human Relations (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Send her a link to this thread.
posted by lollusc at 2:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

not my fault I'm a white female an he's a black male

And there's nothing wrong with her wanting to dress up as Tommie Smith. Just use a little more imagination. Tell her to put on the gold medal, the cool 1970s polyester track suit, black leather glove and walk around with a raised fist and bowed head and let people try to figure it out on their own. It won't be hard.

Wearing blackface (I guess what you mean by "blacking up") isn't anything like cool or clever.
posted by three blind mice at 2:16 AM on July 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would start by pointing her to the wikipedia entry on blackface, and maybe then politely point out that as "blacking up" and blackface have incredibly deep roots in racist depictions and stereotypes, she should think carefully about what it would say about her to insist on doing something like this. I have heard arguments (none of them terribly compelling, mind you) about the satirical value of blackface, but as this doesn't remotely fall under that heading, I just... I'm flabbergasted.
posted by catch as catch can at 2:20 AM on July 24, 2012

Its interesting to watch Brits try to grapple with US racial politics. Explain to her that she's not considering 300 years of genocide, slavery and oppression.

A white person, wearing full face black makeup is a symbol of racist ideologies and hatred. No matter her intentions, this symbol carries such weight that wearing it, even as tribute to someone she admires, is deeply offensive.
posted by JimmyJames at 2:24 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's not acceptable to you. It is clearly acceptable to her. She's going to insist on wearing exactly what she wants to wear. All you can do is suggest to one of the event organisers they have a word with her. If the organisers don't see an issue with her costume, you can stay home and/or disassociate from the the organisation.

I would not bother sending her a link to black-face.org because she's not going to be able to draw the line from historical minstrels to what she's doing, nor is she going to see how that applies outside of the US, nor is she going to see why what's she's doing is racist. You'd be better off pointing Golliwoggs out to her, but she's probably not going to grasp that either.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's just about US racial politics. We have a nasty history of blackface and other vile racist imagery all of our own in this country. There were 'coon singers' treading the boards in the late 19th/early 20th C. I'm just old enough to remember the Black and White Minstrel Show being on telly - it ran for 20 years until 1978. A couple of years ago I came across a charity shop - a charity shop! - selling a range of (new) golliwogs.

This stuff has a historical and symbolic weight that puts blacking up into a completely different world from, say, wearing a wig with a different hair colour even when it's not the grotesque caricature of burnt cork and big red lips. Catch as catch can got in before me with the wiki link, I do think it's a good article on the subject, and would be worth passing on to her as an explanation.

I'd also point out to her that whatever she thinks about this ('oh, it's all PC nonsense') many people at the party would be deeply offended, whatever their ethnicity. They will see what she is doing in the light of generations of racist imagery, stereotyping and demeaning depictions and lampooning. Personally I'd lose it if I saw someone do this.
posted by spectrevsrector at 2:33 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

This is not just a US thing. We had the Black and White Minstrel Show, which is now considered deeply offensive, as is any blacking up. This woman, like Prince Harry, lacks judgement. Sadly, such people exist everywhere. I am sure Tommie Smith would be offended. Suggest that she does Mary Peters instead.
posted by TheRaven at 2:34 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think the UK aspect is as relevant as your question makes it sound. Prince Harry's Nazi costume (which made the news and is still a running joke today, precisely because it isn't considered widely acceptable to do something like that) notwithstanding. Blackface and 'blacking up' are really not considered acceptable here, and a lot of people are going to react to her costume the way you did.

With that in mind, though, I'm not sure there's any way you really can get through to her that this isn't a great idea if she doesn't see that already, particularly if she thinks Tommie Smith wouldn't mind because she met him once(!). I'd stick to pointing out to her that many other people will find this hideously offensive, no matter what her intention is, and that people will think she's making fun of Tommie Smith rather than honouring him.
posted by Catseye at 2:39 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

You're warned her it is not a good thing to do. She's going to do whatever she wants. You just distance yourself from her throughout the party. That's about all you can do, really. I imagine it will backfire on her and she will experience her own teaching moment.
posted by heyjude at 2:41 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

To agree with Catseye, the UK aspect really isn't as relevant as it sounds. Outside of a university-student-level "bad taste party" (which would generally involve people who knew each other pretty well anyway) that's fancy dress that would generally go down like a lead balloon here as much as it would in the US.

As other's have said, the best thing you can do is tell her that regardless of whether she - or indeed Tommy - would be offended, there will be other people there who will be.

If she doesn't listen to that, then ultimately you probably have to accept that there's nothing else you can do unfortunately.
posted by garius at 2:44 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Surely, any meaningful tribute to Tommie Smith would intentionally avoid an emphasis on skin colour? By all means she can dress up as him -- as three blind mice points out, the 60s tracksuit and black glove would be a giveaway -- but there's no need to duplicate every detail. After all, does she plan to wear a false penis?

You should not ignore the UK context. Here in Oxford, I see (to my horror) blackface Morris dancing regularly, and I suspect this reflects (and encourages) a widely-held perception that blacking up is acceptable and 'has nothing to do with racism'.
posted by beniamino at 2:49 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Excuse the slight derail here. 'Blackface' Morris dancing is, in many instances, (probably) nothing to do with race. See the section 'Other Contexts' in the Wikipedia entry. I admit I was also pretty alarmed when I first saw it. A lot of European traditions (see for instance Zwarte Piet) that involve blackening the face date back many centuries and generally have absolutely nothing to do with race. They were often about disguise, or about ancient associations of darkness with evil or the night.

It's one of those unfortunate clashes of tradition with modern sensibility, rather like the use of the Swastika (originally a symbol used by several Indian religions), where you have to tread with great sensitivity and be willing to explain yourself at length repeatedly. And the thing about going out in public wearing such an obvious symbol is that you're not going to be able to explain yourself to everyone who sees you.

But this is just 'blackface blackface'. People will be (quite rightly) offended, not because they'll think she's a racist, but because they'll think she's being grossly insensitive.
posted by pipeski at 3:07 AM on July 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

She seems to think people shouldn't be offended, so you can either (1) convince her that she's wrong, and that they are "right" to be offended by blackface, or (2) point out to her that a costume that sincerely offends people, whether or not they are "right" to be offended is not a fun costume.

She sounds like she'll dig her heels in if you try to "educate" her, so I would go with (2), the path of least resistance. Tell her that many people will be offended by her costume. Some of them will be at the party. Some of them will be the strangers she runs into the way to the party. Is she OK with dismissing their sincere feelings?

p.s. as many people have said, this is not a British thing. The reasons blackface is offensive here are subtly different to those in, e.g. the US, but it is equally offensive.
posted by caek at 3:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

You are entitled to state your objections and reasons, of course. But, as a group, people from the US aren't particularly well-qualified to be counseling folks in other countries regarding race-related issues. And white folks speaking on behalf of black folks are on especially thin ice. (Don't know if that applies here.)

I don't have a huge issue with this. I don't know jack about sports and didn't recognize Smith by name, but I was in junior high in 1968 and I remember the man and the salute—an incredibly powerful and moving moment and the image still resonates. Plus, her reasoning is respectful of the man and totally in keeping with the spirit of the event. I could even support a little make up—not "mistral-show" make up, obviously, but an honest/respectful effort to transform from a white woman to a black man.

That said, the phrase "blacking up" really makes me wince. And, if I were in her shoes and a black man or woman explained that they would be offended by the costume/even minimal make up (I'm assuming no one would be offended by the fact that she selected Smith as her favorite), I would ask for assistance in designing something appropriate.

FWIW, I'm a white woman.
posted by she's not there at 3:16 AM on July 24, 2012

Its interesting to watch Brits try to grapple with US racial politics. Explain to her that she's not considering 300 years of genocide, slavery and oppression.

I promise you that blackface ('blacking up' is the common term here, and if it makes you wince that seems appropriate) is seen as as offensive here as in the US (Little Britain was criticised for using it, and that set out its stall as a collection of many gross stereotypes). I'm actually really surprised that anyone under the age of 50 would think this was acceptable or at least in good taste. I didn't know Smith by name but it doesn't really matter what his background is. I used to run with a crowd where outrageous fancy dress was common - someone once dressed up as Stephen Milligan, complete with black bag and orange - but going as someone of a different race was not cool.

How old is she? If she's old enough to remember minstrels - or even when comedy sketches like this were OK, I think it wouldn't be amiss to try and explain things to her. My mother is 64 and I have to explain to her that 'coloured' isn't the preferred term now, even though it was, when she was younger, considered more polite than 'black' or 'negroid'.
posted by mippy at 3:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

It still sounds to me like she might be kidding you. As others have pointed out, this is no more of a cool idea in the UK than it would be in the USA. I might expect a person over about 60 who was living in a sheltered existence in a rural part of the country to think otherwise. Or perhaps somebody with some mental health problems. And such a person would be very unlikely to have heard of a figure such as Tommie Smith - let alone come to regard him as a hero (and to have met him).

On the other hand it would not be unknown for a British person to try to tease an American in this way.

Ask her again, face to face.
posted by rongorongo at 3:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

White folks telling black people how they should feel about racism = thin ice.
White folks backing up black people's criticisms of racism and speaking out against racism ≠ thin ice.
posted by catch as catch can at 3:30 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

Er... blackface is no more acceptable in the UK as it is in the US.

I would simply tell her this: that blackface is generally considered offensive, and that in dressing up as Tommie Smith, of all people, she is likely to find herself looking and feeling fairly stupid as the evening wears on.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Man, I'm British. And if I was at a party where someone was blacked up like this, I would definitely take them to task on it - possibly quite angrily and aggressively depending on how much I've had to drink.

Perhaps she's just trolling you. But if not - and if she goes ahead with this - it's not really your problem. Maybe you could try explaining to her that if pictures of her at this party ended up in the local press, they could get her sacked or bring her organisation into serious disrepute, specially if she works in local government or something.

Or if you're feeling vengeful you could take the pictures and distribute them yourself. After all, if she's going ahead with this pigheadedly ignorant plan, she probably deserves to be taken to task for it by her community.
posted by Ted Maul at 3:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I want to add some background info before I get hammered regarding the make up.

In the mid-1980s, a coworker (black woman) and I decided to go as each other for the mandatory Halloween dress-up (restaurant/bar). We were about the same size/build and could do a passable imitation of each other's hair, but skin color was an issue. Although it wasn't difficult to get my white skin to match her coloring (multiple layers of bronzing gel applied over several hours, using a paint brush to cover eyelids and ears), we couldn't get the same realistic appearance for her. She ended up doing an over-the-top version of "white-face".

So, it is entirely possible for a white person to dress as a black person without evoking memories of a history of hatred and violence.
posted by she's not there at 4:02 AM on July 24, 2012

So, it is entirely possible for a white person to dress as a black person without evoking memories of a history of hatred and violence.

For whom, she's not there? That is the question, and there is no way to guarantee that is the case for everyone who saw you; one black person being okay with it, does not make it okay, or okay for everyone person black or white.

Regarding your friend, OP, I would just say you would be offended, and others might very well be too, and leave it at that. You can't change someone's outfit - or mind - for them. It sounds like she's pushed back already on your reaction.
posted by smoke at 4:24 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you talk her into printing a big photo of him onto card stock and making a mask of his actual face, in this style?

If the immediate goal is to stop her from offending people at the party, then suggesting a mask seems like the best way to do it and may prevent her from defying you out of spite. You're not rejecting her costume idea, you're endorsing and improving it; she will look much more like Tommie this way.

But after the party? Yeah somebody needs to have the talk with her, because blackface in 2012, what the actual fuck?
posted by the latin mouse at 4:26 AM on July 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

The problem with blackface, is that not only does it have a long history of being used to mock and denigrate people of African ethnicities*, and to replace people of african ethnicities in opportunities they should legitimately have (see acting, parody, and - french vogue failing to hire any ethnically african models when they want to look "diverse").
And because people aren't telepathic, that is what it is going to look like, if you try it.

But, the additional thing that makes me uncomfortable from the otherside, is that I'm kinda aware that some of the vitriol against anyone in darker makeup, is actually just, yet more culturally white-supremacist racism. As in, underneath the legitimate dislike of blackface, there is also this undercurrent of social disapproval to anyone looking... darker. Which is plain old, garden variety racism.

Compare it to men dressing up as drag. Traditionally, many male comedians did it to make fun of women. Or as replacement, because you wouldn't get a female actor. But also, it was ostracised because culturally, males are supposed to be superior, females inferior, and accidentally looking more feminine is considered not ok, and not something a male should ever want to do. (Even if a sarong is comfortable.)

Thing is, if it's not a culturally acceptable thing to do, people who do it will additionally do it... badly? So, like bad drag queens. And using black facepaint instead of make-up on your face looks pretty bad, and mocking, regardless of intent.

So, yeah. That particular undercurrent makes me feel quite uncomfortable. That because everyone should want to look white, no one should look darker.
Beyonce got quite a bit of flack for going face-only dark. Tribute? Or blackface? It looks like a tribute to me, but, that's the problem. It's just not ok at the moment.

Anyway, yeah. Not quite relevant to this discussion, because I don't think a thoughtless British girl is going to be the one to examine the underlying assumptions and bigotry in this.
However, I'd still suggest that doing it well is less offensive than doing it badly (looks far less like mockery).

* On a sidetrack, just to illustrate the cultural differences in racism, on Metafilter I'd usually use the phrase 'black people' instead of say, African descent. Despite the face that I feel quite uncomfortable using the terms black/white for people, but I know it's accepted in the US. Here, we'd say someone is ethnically European or African, or be as specific as we could be e.g. Bic Runga would be a Maori-Chinese New Zealander - there's a further distinction, in that it's assumed someone who is Maori is always part European, but for most other people, it'd be explicit. I think because we never had the one drop rule?
I definitely wouldn't call someone of Asian descent, 'yellow' (unless you're a Simpson, or jaundiced). I'm fascinated, but slightly horrified to wonder whether some of my relatives would count as 'coloured'.
So yeah, it's really quite hard to figure out what would be most respectful in different countries, but I really do try to do talk in Rome, as the Romans I'm talking to/about would prefer.

Fellow Mefites - My apologies if I have failed at any point, and please, do feel free to correct me.
posted by Elysum at 4:28 AM on July 24, 2012

I promise you that blackface ('blacking up' is the common term here, and if it makes you wince that seems appropriate) is seen as as offensive here as in the US (Little Britain was criticised for using it, and that set out its stall as a collection of many gross stereotypes).

Blackface is deprecated in the UK, certainly, but it simply untrue to say it is as offensive as in the US. Little Britain provides ample evidence. Though it might have attracted criticism, it used blackface regularly (without any noticeable attempt to subvert or comment on the form). Its successor show uses blackface even more extensively. It is simply inconceivable that a similarly high-profile show in the US would regularly use blackface characters without irony in this way.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:31 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the other hand it would not be unknown for a British person to try to tease an American in this way.

posted by rongorongo at 11:30 AM on July 24

I am strongly suspecting this.
posted by Decani at 5:06 AM on July 24, 2012

You may want to explain that this is roughly the same as having someone show up to a party dressed as a Klan member and claiming to be a ghost.

But like Decani, I suspect your friend might is pulling your leg.
posted by mhoye at 5:14 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

[A couple of comments deleted. Answer the question, or help to answer the question. Don't attack the OP, and don't use this thread as a soapbox.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:22 AM on July 24, 2012

I think that, unless it's your party, it's not your place to save people from being an idiot. If she wants to be an idiot, then don't stop her. Nothing you can say will equal the disappoving looks she will get from many at the party if she's not pulling your leg.

And some people will be offended. But that will be on her.
posted by inturnaround at 5:23 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are two flowcharts available:
The more complicated "should I use blackface on my blog" flowchart (ebogjohnson):

The less complicated "should I wear blackface on Halloween" flowchart (BobbyBigWheel):

She may find both resources useful.
posted by kalessin at 5:25 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

You seem very sure that "This whole situation is offensive, clearly unacceptable", but actually swathes of contemporary mainstream media in the UK, including Little Britain, Bo Selecta, and this famous photo of Kate Moss would suggest that wearing make up to look black is broadly acceptable in the UK. Indeed British Blackface has lots of other current examples. Although I entirely agree with your sentiments, I don't think you should try and intervene, because you'll just be seen as part of the "PC brigade", who are such a beloved target of scorn for Daily Mail readers. Maybe this woman is about to get a shocking jolt of reality when her costume really offends the other party goers, but given that you don't have a good relationship anyway, I don't think your pre-emptive intervention will help you or her.
posted by roofus at 5:36 AM on July 24, 2012

Er, no, blackface is not acceptable in the UK (definitely not in Scotland where I live) and the chances of her offending someone if she does it is are high.

And Little Britain is a trashy, lowest-common denominator "comedy" show that is offensive in pretty much every way, so I don't see why the fact it used black face makes it acceptable. It does not.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:54 AM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Thanks, all, for the responses. Though I remain uncomfortable about the situation (for me, it's taboo), I don't think there's a way for me to constructively resolve this. I'll likely drop her a friendly note saying that's a great idea but noting that the blackface part of it might offend people and ask her if she's thought of the great idea of creating a mask instead (thanks the latin mouse!).

To provide a bit more context, the sport we participate in is a traditional pasttime of independent schools and elite universities and minority participation in this sport has traditionally been very low. In some parts of the sport, awareness of race and racism tends to be very low - she certainly wouldn't be the first person who covered themselves in black body paint at one of this sport's parties. I do think that her idea is good; the execution, however, seems to be lacking. The party is an official club event, though, and I can't imagine that photos of a white girl in blackface doing a black power salute would be particularly well received.

(Though I wish this were a joke/an attempt to wind me up, I strongly suspect it isn't. I really think she doesn't get it and she would've seen others in blackface at similar parties. Her initial email was sent to a large group of people and my "you're kidding, right?" reply was sent to her individually and tried to presume the best (no "OMG! What are you thinking! You racist!" rage at all). If anything, I suspect she'll attempt to wind me up by actually turning up in blackface...)

(Oh! and I love the flowcharts! They appeal to the geek in me!)
posted by lumiere at 5:57 AM on July 24, 2012

a traditional pasttime of independent schools and elite universities

That doesn't surprise me. Perhaps you could send your friend this article and ask if she'd like to end up in a similar one for anybody who Googles her name to see.

I mean, it wouldn't tackle the privilege and ignorance that leads her to believe this action is remotely okay, but it would stop her making such a tit of herself on the day.
posted by Ted Maul at 6:09 AM on July 24, 2012

[Comment deleted. I didn't think I would have to specify this, but here you go: Do Not Troll Here.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:45 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Are you sure you want a photo of yourself 'blacked up' on Facebook?"
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yeah, I think that the best approach here is actually not education, but making a personal case about how she will be perceived and/or treated because of it. Best being here "most effective." The mask idea is a brilliant way to do this - maybe even offer to help with doing a color picture so it looks more realistic, but ultimately, it's still a sign in front of the face, and not blackface.

Let us know how it goes.
posted by corb at 8:16 AM on July 24, 2012

I'd suggest pointing out that while she knows she's doesn't have ill intentions (urg!), nobody on Facebook, and not everybody at the party will know her. Some people will think she is a jerk or a racist.

You could also watch this video from Jay Smooth, How to Tell Somebody They Sound Racist", and tell her that not everybody is going to be so sensitive toward her actions.
posted by bilabial at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the OP has it right: this is taboo. And taboos are meaningless outside of their cultural context. I don't deny that there will be some people everywhere who will find blackface offensive, but it is also true that Europeans in general don't react half as strongly to it, and I don't think that's because they are any more racist. It's simply because the history is different.

What I have noticed since I began living in Europe about three years ago is that all of the really strong reactions to this kind of thing have come exclusively from North Americans. The locals usually aren't ill-intentioned, and almost none of them understand what the fuss is about.

In German record stores you will often find a section called "Black Music". What you find here is mostly Motown, R&B, really any forms of music you might associate with African-Americans. Some of my North American friends here find this really shocking. I'll grant that it's an ill-fitting category name, since there are likely as many kinds of music with African roots as there are with European, but given the cultural context it gets its intended meaning across. And I want to point this out: Germans absolutely love "Black Music"; these are English words in a country that doesn't speak English, so they carry none of the negative freight they do in some English-speaking countries.

A satirical party in Germany called "Die PARTEI" ran in the most recent Berlin state elections and used a campaign poster that will surely upset some MeFites.

It's natural to be shocked when such innate boundaries are crossed, but I think it's always worth asking, "how much of my reaction comes from my own cultural bias?" and also "do I really understand what's going on in the minds of the people around me?" I'm one of the people who thinks that intent is what really matters.

The German journalist and satirist Kurt Tucholsky wrote, in an essay titled, "What is satire allowed?":

"Does satire go too far? Satire must go too far, and is to its deepest core unjust. It inflates reality in order to make it clearer, and it cannot work but by the biblical credo: the just suffer with the unjust...

But the way things are now, the darkness is unfolding to megalomania, while the German satirist delicately walks on eggs between the professions, the classes, the religious denominations and communal bodies. That is, of course, very gracious, but does get tiring after a while. Real satire cleans the blood. And he who has clean blood, has a clear complexion, too.

What is satire allowed?


He was talking about the Nazis.
posted by rhombus at 8:44 AM on July 24, 2012

Hey, you tried. I would just sit back, let her blackface it up, and deal with the consequences. Hopefully she'll learn something from the experience.
posted by xedrik at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2012

The problem with letting her stew in her own juice is that she reflects badly on the other attendees of the party, and their sports club.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:48 AM on July 24, 2012

I am a WWII reenactor, so I feel very confident in answering this question. It is generally accepted in our circle that the ONLY times that you should be dressing up as a a WWII person/symbol is:

1) You are playing a part in a movie, documentary, or play.
2) You are part of a historical reenactment or are practicing for one (aka: putting on a show to encourage public awareness of history).
3) You have some other purely educational reason, such as demonstrating WWII era clothing at a museum.

You know why we don't dress up as Nazis and go to parties? Because that shit isn't funny, fun, or ironic.

Racism isn't entertainment. She's not a comedian who is trying to use humor to bring attention to a challenging issue, she is just trying to get attention by being extreme.

You have my permission to say "Stop trying to get attention by being disrespectful" if you like.
posted by Shouraku at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

"I can't imagine Tommie Smith would ever be cool with it."

You could email Mrs. Smith and ask.
posted by Catch at 5:36 PM on July 24, 2012

I think Shouraku nails it:
Because that shit isn't funny, fun, or ironic. ... Racism isn't entertainment. She's not a comedian who is trying to use humor to bring attention to a challenging issue, she is just trying to get attention by being extreme.
If I'm honest, the thought of emailing Mrs Smith with such a question is quite intimidating: it's a question that I'd be embarrassed to ask! I'd be interested in her answer but would feel disrespectful asking "Hi! My friend is planning on going to a party in blackface as your husband. I think this is racist. What do you think??" I mean, looking at Tommie Smith's life, the awards he's won, and the causes he supports, the answer seems pretty obvious (even if assumptions can be misleading).

Thanks to all for the very thoughtful answers. Will update after the party on Friday.
posted by lumiere at 1:54 AM on July 25, 2012

"Nope not at all!! It's meant to be our favourite Olympian right, and tommie smith is mine - not my fault I'm a white female an he's a black male - he's a courageous believer in human rights and is the reason I began my journey in sociology of sport. Besides I've met the guy and he'd be cool with it im sure!"

To her: A more effective way of conveying this would be to dress as Peter Norman and attach a copy of the Olympic photo to your outfit - that way people can clearly see and understand the moment that you are addressing, and will understand that you are acting as a supporter of Tommie Smith in the way that Peter Norman did.
posted by heyjude at 3:33 PM on July 25, 2012

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