Outside The Frame : Blackface in Photos


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was recently discovered wearing blackface during a halloween party in a medical school yearbook. Several individuals including those in elected office have since asked Northam to resign. 

In defense of Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he too wore blackface at college parties. 

In response to these recent discoveries, the media has been pursuing stories of celebrities (especially those on the left or liberal minded) who have done blackface.

With that begs the question...... what is considered blackface?

Back during the Jim Crow era of the United States, Minstrel Shows were put on as entertainment. They were similar to what today would be Saturday Night Live except there was only one subject/type of person that was lampooned into mockery......Black People.


White people would wear makeup to look black, add clown like aspects such as makeup to accentuate big lips, wear a large bowtie, and then perpetuate the stereotypes of black people. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

These shows and their mockery influenced a negative view of black people which led many to be mistreated and even killed in heinous crimes such as the story of the young boy Emmett Till

However there is a difference between blackface done by Northam and Herring and what is being called out by the media of celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Joy Behar and others

Jimmy Kimmel as Karl Malone on The Man Show

Jimmy Kimmel as Karl Malone on The Man Show

Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon were both playing specific characters (Karl Malone and Chris Rock) and while they were both done with a mockery intent on comedy shows they were not mocking an entire race, nor were they donning any kind of clown aspect to get the audience to view Karl Malone or Chris Rock or people like them in any negative way.

Jimmy Fallon as Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live

Jimmy Fallon as Chris Rock on Saturday Night Live

They were mocked in the same vein SNL have mocked thousands of people of ALL walks of life.  Its the exact opposite intent of what a Minstrel Show aimed to do. 


Which brings up Megyn Kelly. Kelly was recently let go from her NBC contract for claiming that when she was growing up blackface was ok...... as long as you were playing a character. She then brought up the controversy of Luann De Lesseps of Real Housewives of NYC as an example for dressing as Diana Ross for Halloween. 


NBC dropped the ball as Kelly's comments  were a great opportunity to talk about the differences between what is actual blackface vs what is "playing a character" such as paying tribute to an icon such as Diana Ross.

Northam and Herring however werent paying tribute. They were doing actual blackface. Northam is seen standing next to someone dressed as a member of the klan

There is a difference between these photos and we hope we addressed it in a fair way that considers multiple...lenses

Scott Roth