The history of blackface is long and carries a lot of pain. It goes as far back as the 1800’s. For more than a century, white performers wore dark, tar like makeup with white or reddish lips to portray black people in minstrel shows.
“As far as African-Americans are concerned it was insulting because of what the shows did,” said Marja Broussard, President of Lafayette Chapter of NAACP. Broussard said these performances created stereotypes of African-Americans that are still alive today. “Personally, if I would see someone dressed in true blackface, tar black as my jacket on their face with the big white lips, that would be hurtful because of what it signifies, what it defines and what it means.”
Minstrel shows began in 1830’s. White performers used burnt cork and eventually black greasepaint. Minstrelsy became one of the most popular forms of entertainment. About thirty-years later, African-Americans began using blackface onstage themselves, “There were black actors that did the blackface but it was because Caucasians who flocked to these theatre wanted the blackface,” said Broussard. She called it racist. Broussard said if it wasn’t intended to be offensive, then it wouldn’t be as dehumanizing, “If blackface was to glorify a people, raise a people, build a people. I don’t think anyone would be offended by it.”
It begged the question, what if a white person were to portray an African-American in a positive light by honoring them? We headed to Las Vegas, Nevada to meet The Edwards Twins. The Caucasian twins are a traveling act. They describe themselves as illusionists because they transform their looks and voices into various musical artists including African-Americans such as Lionel Ritchie, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, “People refused to believe I was a white guy. They literally said that guy was a brother. And then the thing is when they found out who it was they were amazed and said I hope that you continue so that’s what we did but I was scared to death,” said Anthony Edwards, The Edwards Twins.
Tune in for part two next Wednesday, January 23rd, to hear about the backlash The Edwards Twins are now facing.