Terry Rambler, chief of the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona, has been at the forefront of the effort to force The Washington Redskins, a privately owned NFL sports franchise, to change its name and logo of long-standing because both are allegedly racist. [ As I have made clear many times, the team’s name is not racist, as neither its origins nor current use suggest or imply racist intent, purpose or impact, and the team’s owner has a First Amendment right to call his team whatever he wants. The decades long political correctness stunt has gained more traction under the Obama administration, because the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats do not respect the Constitution or follow it when it gets in the way of its agenda. (See: drones, Obamacare, immigration, NSA domestic spying, harassment of reporters, IRS partisan activities, recess appointments, Libya bombing, selective prosecution, putting government pressure on the Redskins to change its name, etc… )
But I digress.
This year, Rambler’s Halloween costume was Jamaican musician Bob Marley, complete with dreadlocks, wig, and rasta beanie. He also wore appropriate make-up to look like Marley.
Here is what the chief looks like most days:
Here he is on Halloween as the Reggae icon…
The costume is making Rambler the target of criticism from both sides of the controversy: Redskins defenders who view his make-up as “blackface” and thus hypocritical, and his own Team Political Correctness, which sees Rambler as engaging in the same kind of insensitive conduct they claim the Washington Redskins embody.
To make things worse for Rambler, there was another recent Bob Marley controversy in Gaston County, (North Carolina), where a sheriff’s captain apologized for wearing dark make-up as part of her own Marley Halloween costume after her in-costume photo appeared online.
And thus your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Was the Native American activist’s Bob Marley make-up unethical or hypocritical?
My view: No.
It just seems like it if you don’t think about it enough.
Still, I enjoy seeing him get a lot of grief for the costume, since it and his Redskins-phobia are all part of the same societal malady: looking for an offense that isn’t there.
First of all, wearing dark make-up to portray Bob Marley isn’t blackface; it isn’t even Jamaica-face. Similarly, darkening one’s skin to more realistically look like President Obama, Jesse Jackson or Othello isn’t offensive or unethical, and also isn’t “blackface.” It is just called using make-up. I’ll be delving into this issue in more detail soon, but blackface very specifically refers to the minstrel show practice of using gross African American stereotypes for entertainment, while simultaneously prohibiting black entertainers from performing. (The great black vaudevillian Bert Williams often had to perform in blackface–painted skin, white lips and gloves–in order to be allowed on stage.) The white lips make dark make-up into unquestionably offensive “blackface,” unless someone is intent on manufacturing a political issue for their own reasons.
It is amusing/ absurd/ annoying that while African American activists are pressing for more cross-race casting in traditional white roles, some are arguing that using make-up to portray a black character is racist. That’s hypocrisy. On Halloween, a white 8-year old boy wearing untied shoe laces, one sequined glove and a fedora appeared at my door and blurted out, “I’m Michael Jackson.” He was very white and had a nose: I would have guessed he was one of the Blues Brothers. If he wore make-up, it would have been a great costume, and had he, there would have been nothing wrong with it. Terry Ramblerwore dark make-up to look like Bob Marley. There was nothing wrong with that, either.
Since there is nothing whatsoever that is racially insensitive about a Native American dressing up as a Jamaican, one cannot say that Rambler was violating his own principles by doing so. True, neither using dark make-up to portray a dark Jamaican singer, nor a beloved (though less lately) NFL team using a now disfavored term for Native Americans in a completely positive context is racist, but they share no other common features at all….except perhaps that those criticizing them are equally ignorant.