History of blackface and why many University of Oklahoma students are fed up

Students at the University of Oklahoma marched for justice after two blackface incidents on the college’s campus. The #BetterTogether march led and organized by junior political science major Aurelius Miles Francisco, Destinee Dickson and fellow members of OU’s Black Student Association was carried out to put further pressure on the campus’ leaders, specifically the newly assigned president, Jim Gallogly.

Many of OU’s Black students and others have grown infuriated with the university after the two recent blackface incidents, as well as past incidents, including the infamous Sigma Alpha Epsilon racist chant incident of 2015.

Although the majority of the student body that attended Thursday afternoon’s rally weren’t students in 2015, they aren’t ignorant to what took place and the drama that compassed it. There were approximately 1,000 students that stood in front of the steps of OU’s student union to listen to Francisco speak.

Miles Francisco’s speech:

Miles Francisco addresses fellow OU students in powerful speech.

This march was important for multiple reasons. To remind the Black community that they have a family at this University. That if this space wasn’t made for us we will fight to ensure that it becomes one for us. This march was to let the administration know, the board of regents that we want real systemic changes. Starting with the safety of students of color and then dismantling this culture at OU that allows students the freedom to embark on this racist oath with no repercussions and no ways to counteract this behavior proactively.

Francisco on why the march was so important to him and others.

“Our chapter condemns the racist, offensive and disgraceful conduct of the two women involved in the video posted yesterday,” Theta Gamma Delta Delta Delta Collegiate Chapter President London Moore said in a statement posted to Instagram. “More specifically, we are deeply disappointed in the actions of the one woman associated with the Theta Gamma chapter of Tri Delta.

Though condemning these girls are cool and all, it still doesn’t suffice. There are certain things you have to say to cover yourself and that’s all the sorority did according to this writer and well, everyone involved in this march. What has more people in shock is the lack of action and lack of urgent response by president Gallogly.

As Francisco mentioned in his speech following the march, “I’m just here to get an education. I shouldn’t have to be standing up here.” Those words were seemingly insignificant at the moment but thinking back about the reality in that statement; these are 18-23-year-olds that are trying to get their education just like White students, but there is a different burden that’s been placed on them. The fact that they have to worry about these tactics formed in the 19th century that were used to propagate racist images, attitudes and perceptions of black people makes their journey to graduation twice as challenging as their White counterparts.

Understandably so, there are many Black people, especially college-aged that don’t believe this form of peaceful protest is effective. That’s something you can’t blame them for. Growing up, seeing the various protests, Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and more, yet there still has been outright, obvious forms of racism that still partake today. It’s understandable to feel like these marches are pointless, but it’s not about winning the fight, it’s about eventually winning the battle.

Marches are useful for visibility and solidarity and that was the purpose of this march. To let all of OU know that we’re here and we will fight for what we believe in.

Francisco on the importance of marches.

The history and infamy of blackface:

Blackface originated from the White man’s depiction of plantation slaves and free blacks during the Minstrel Era (1830-1890). These caricatures became so popular among society that they whole-heartedly expected any person with dark skin, regardless of their background, to conform to one or more of these stereotypes.

Jim Crow: The term Jim Crow originated in 1830 when a White minstrel show performer, Thomas “Daddy” Rice, blackened his face with burnt cork and danced a jig while singing the lyrics to the song,
“Jump Jim Crow.”

Zip Coon: First performed by George Dixon in 1834, Zip Coon made a mockery of free blacks. An arrogant, ostentatious figure, he dressed in high style and spoke in a series of malaprops and puns that undermined his attempts to appear dignified.

Jim Crow and Zip Coon eventually merged into a single stereotype called simply “coon.”

Mammy: Mammy is a source of earthy wisdom who is fiercely independent and brooks no backtalk. Although her image changed a little over the years, she was always a favorite of advertisers.

Uncle Tom: Toms are typically good, gentle, religious and sober. Images of Uncle Toms were another favorite of advertisers and “Uncle Ben” is still being used to sell rice.

Buck: The Buck is a large Black man who is proud, sometimes menacing, and always interested in White women.

Winch/Jezebel: The temptress. During the minstrel era, wenches were typically a male in female garb. In film, wenches were usually female mulattos.

Mulatto: A mixed-blood male or female. In film, often portrayed as a tragic figure who either intentionally or unintentionally passes for White until they discover they have Negro blood or are discovered by another character to be Black.
Picaninnies: Picaninnies have bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips and wide mouths into which they stuff huge slices of watermelon.

For those that are ignorant to what blackface truly is, here’s a thorough and visual explanation. Obviously, these depictions are over 180 years old in origin and for some reason, they are still relevant today.

It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains. It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.

Assata Shakur, recited by Miles Francisco on the campus of the University of Oklahoma.

Feature image: J. Stew on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “History of blackface and why many University of Oklahoma students are fed up

  1. Outstanding points made. Great and thorough coverage of Miles, who had the courage to take a stand and step up to preach a powerful word! There are legitimate concerns that exists and to be addressed. Thank you, for understand the worth of the message, covering it and reporting it on your magnificent and diverse platform – The Suave Report. Thank you Miles Francisco for being about doing something and eloquently resenting how organized civil discord should be presented.

  2. Great article on the March at OU today. The historical references should help to educate those lacking knowledge of the struggle of our people and the harshness of the images shown this week on the campus.

  3. Thank you for the great, professional coverage of the march and for the HISTORY LESSON! Truly, those who have not learned their history are bound to repeat it, and there are obviously a lot of people who have not learned the painful history of Blackface and these other stereotypes and caricatures.

    THANK YOU!

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