Sometimes Blackface Works

Jon Hamm and Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock (NBC)
Jon Hamm and Tracy Morgan on 30 Rock (NBC)

Reflecting on the recent use of blackface on 30 Rock, Clutch magazine's Tami Winfrey Harris says that she was fine with it and reminds us that context matters.


In this case, 30 Rock was poking at both past and present racism in media. Character Kenneth the Page introduced the segment by saying, “NBC had the first two black characters on TV — sort of. For ‘Alfie and Abner,’ NBC hired one African American and one Caucasian because they thought two black people on the same show would make the audience nervous. A rule NBC still uses today.” He set up the satirization of past racism, while acknowledging that while everything has changed, everything has also remained the same. It’s hard to find a fully-actualized black character on television … in 2012. Blackness was not the joke here.

I was similarly unfazed last month when CNN reporter Susan Candiotti read an uncensored slur, found on the Facebook page of Jacob England, one of two suspects accused of shooting five black people in Tulsa, Okla. England (and Candiotti) used the word “nigger.”  This isn’t comedy; this is news. The suspect’s naked racism may help shed light on his motivations. Candiotti didn’t say “the N word” with animus, or, I imagine, lightly. She used it in the context of a quote in the middle of a news story. I’m no fan of the word, but “Nigger” isn’t like “Candyman.” Say it too many times and something bad happens. It does no good to the fight against racism to hide its reality.

Bottom line? Context–it matters.

Read Tami Winfrey Harris' entire piece at Clutch magazine.

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