Is Blackface Here to Stay?

Author: Pastor Charles Tapp
March 07, 2019

Recently there has been a great deal in the media regarding the controversy over Ralph Northam, governor of the great state of Virginia, for having worn blackface while a student in medical school in 1984. The incident came to the light when someone discovered a yearbook picture of Northam in blackface while standing next to someone who was in Ku Klux Klan attire. Northam has wavered on whether he is in fact one of the men pictured. As a matter of fact, in his original statement, he apologized profusely and said that he was indeed in the photo. But by the next morning, he claimed that actually, it wasn’t him. In a press conference, he said there was “no way that I have ever been in a KKK outfit, but that he did remember using shoe polish for blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume during a dance contest.

When the photos of the alleged incident first came to the light, many of Northam’s constituents immediately began to call for his resignation, including ranking members of his own party. Now all of this took place in spite of the fact that he has made it clear that he is determined to remain in office. You see, Northam believes that because he has matured over the years that he can make a positive impact for his state when it comes especially to issues of race. 

With all of this being said, what concerns me is not just the wearing of blackface. And trust me when I say that I am not naïve when it comes to how the wearing of blackface is so degrading to Blacks in this country. The caricature that it presents of black people is not lost upon me and countless others who have felt the pain of discrimination simply because of the color of our skin. But there’s another issue that troubles me as a Christian and a citizen of the Kingdom of God and that is, why do we continue to persecute individuals because of certain views they may have held at one time in their lives, views by the way which they no longer espouse?
This begs the question, what do we as believers do with the Apostle Paul’s words, “When I was child I thought as a child…but when I became a man I put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). If we were to hold the apostle Paul to the same litmus test that we hold many in the public arena today, then we would have to divest ourselves of much of the good that Paul contributed to the church, including a very large portion of the writings of the New Testament, all because of his sordid past as one who persecuted Christians. If Paul were alive today, we would probably say that his Damascus road conversion story was nothing more than a mere cover up to conceal how he really feels.

I guess you could say that the question I’m really asking is this, is blackface here to stay? And by blackface, I’m using it simply as a metaphor to represent our unwillingness at times to believe that people really can change and that their past should be just that, their past. Again it is the apostle Paul who said, “…  forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13, 14). Great words from one who if judged by our standards today, would probably never have been written about or at best published.

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