CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — UNC and East Carolina University remain under fire for old yearbook photos that show people in blackface.
The anti-black images are not just causing widespread backlash and consequences regarding employment, they are also sparking conversations about the racist history of blackface and what should be done about the act in present day.
“It was a caricature because whites didn't want to present blacks in any way that would suggest that blacks were the same as whites,” says UNC History Professor Fitz Brundage, author of Beyond Blackface.
He says blackface gained popularity in the early 1800s in theaters in New York City.
“What they were mimicking, they thought, was a stereotype of black men,” Brundage explained.
Brundage says there are several reasons why people choose to paint their faces black. For some, it's about going to great lengths to mimic African-American idols. Others may do it because they envy some portion of black culture.
“[It] doesn't give you the right to appropriate a tradition that's saturated with the degradation of a race,” Brundage said.
He explains that despite this, people might try to get away with it in 2019.
“There are some people who are going to think it will be fun. [They think] 'I'm going to do that precisely because I shouldn't.'”
But Brundage hopes the outrage and conversations will continue to show people history is not okay to repeat.
Now though, society is faced with the question of what to do next, now that images of people in blackface are showing up not from the 1800s but the 1970s and 1980s.
Some say the photographs should be publicized as a form of acknowledgment, saying racism is not strictly a historical concept. Others say the pictures should be ignored completely, stating that too much time has passed for anything to be done with them.
The African-American community expressed outrage on social media though and their take on it, generally, is for justice to be done so the humor and attraction to blackface is replaced with consequences and the understanding that it is offensive and harmful.
For instance, this week fashion brand Gucci pulled a a sweater from their collection after it appeared to mimic the features of blackface. As a result, many celebrities, artists, and individuals have called for a boycott of the brand.