Ethics Quiz: The Anti-Washington Redskins Activist’s Bob Marley Costume

The Native American in the middle is dressed as a famous Jamaican. Would it have been offensive if he dressed as Sitting Bull?

The Native American in the middle is dressed as a famous Jamaican. Would it have been offensive if he dressed as Sitting Bull?

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…

Halloween Marley

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.

26 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Anti-Washington Redskins Activist’s Bob Marley Costume

  1. Come on, he’s at least hypocritical. There is nothing whatever racist about Redskins as a name, but he’s making a lot of noise about it.

  2. I think there’s a strong argument that this is hypocritical.

    If we look at the costume from the paradigm that the people pushing for the Redskins to change their name operate from, then this was blackface and cultural appropriation, even we reject that paradigm as it isn’t based in reality. Hypocrisy would be preaching against these behaviors and taking part in them… Which I think is exactly what he’s doing.

    But we as rational thinkers have to take a step back and say that if we don’t think that Halloween costumes are per se offensive, then we also have to accept that when one of the idiots heckling those costumes gets caught up like this and hoisted on their own petard, we can experience some schadenfreude at their expense, but to be consistent, we shouldn’t join in.

    • Stay out of it long enough, and the serpent will devour itself by the tail. You can only shoot your own soldiers for so long before people stop enlisting, and that includes the SJW army. Even if they do have one hell of a recruitment drive going in the American School System/Higher education system right now.

      • That’s if you buy into the theory of cultural appropriation. I don’t. Some things are offensive, and should be avoided, but “cultural appropriation” requires a mindset that culture is set in stone. It isn’t. Culture is in a constant state of flux, evolving as the culture is introduced to new things, taking parts from other cultures, discarding facets as they become too onerous, or to make room. I don’t agree with this system of cultural dibs. It’s destructive in the long term, and doomed to fail.

  3. If black performers, whatever their skin shade, hadn’t “corked up” from the 1840s on, there would never have been an opportunity for them to reach the mainstream, not even to hone their talents as musicians, (comic) actors, and dancers. From the beginning too, from underneath the greasepaint, they poked fun at the racist attitudes in the South and double standards of the North, as well as satirizing themselves. They didn’t spring into Nicholas Brothers or Michael Jackson or Moms Mabley from nowhere, overnight. The blackface tradition lasted over a hundred years in this country, minstrelsy to vaudeville to theater to other performance mediums. The only change, coming in the early 20th century, was that black performers didn’t have to black-up anymore. (though few mourned the loss of the really bad jokes). Now the make-up, costumes, satire, not to mention most of the music, are forbidden by unwritten, reasonless laws — Verboten, ja wohl! — and fast becoming forgotten. The disease of censorship spreads everywhere (borrowing Jack’s phrase) actively, brainlessly and often maliciously “looking for an offense that isn’t there.”

    Good for Rambler! Anyone who doesn’t like it can play the sandwich in Belushi’s samurai delicatessen.

  4. Wait, there’s of picture of the whitely named Terry in a suit? He’s culturally appropriating a form of dress that distinctly derives from European style…

    I won’t take him as a serious defender of his culture if he isn’t wearing his epuntltesis, tskletlikai, and epunke….

    Of course, I will take him even more seriously if he’s got at least 5 notches in his coup stick.

    Otherwise, he can walk on.

    • I mean, it gets more and more ludicrous the more a culture pretends like they aren’t assimilated…

      What was the post awhile back about what I assume was some soccer mom who took time out of her day working in some actuarial position…what was her name…something unassuming like Carol McDermott or something? She complained about her culture being lost forever or being destroyed or something because she was an indian?

        • You’re lucky Belushi isn’t working at the deli today. The Chairman may be an idiot about erasing Redskins but it’s a great ethnicly layered costume. And an understandable, if unworthy (and unethical) agenda.

          Only a man totally aware of the extent of his assimilation would have found his place in the media sun and basked in it in the great tradition of American advertising, drawing attention to his tribe — the tribe that lives on the land they were forced onto in the 1800s, known at the time as Hell’s Forty Acres. He’s going to get attention any way he can.

  5. All I can say is knowing their chief admires Bob Marley and wants to dress up like him may help explain why the San Carlos Reservation looks shockingly and depressingly like someplace horrible in the third world.

    • “Who are you supposed to be, Chïef?” asked the eight year old boy.

      “I’m Bob Marley, son.”

      “Who’s that?”

      “He was a Jamaican guy who thought pot, er, marijuana, is a religious experience and made a lot, a lot of money singing songs about it that lots of people my age and younger think are really neat,”

      “That’s COOL”

        • And by the way, I think he’s a hypocrite, not according to your rational analysis but according the the social justice definition of blackface. Any darkening of skin is verboten according to the social justice definition. No costumes allowed. Except to make fun of white people or Christians.

  6. I was going to a Haloween Party and wished to go all PC – so I bought a Pelosi mask.

    I always admired the Turner/Fonda combine doing the Tomahock Chop when the Braves were relevant.

  7. A local high school football team is called “The Black Knights.” Sooner or later they will have to address their insensitivity.

  8. I was at that reservation last Fall, and met some kind and wonderful people. I wish the Chief should maybe focus on cleaning up the mountains of trash all over their one and only skate park, next to their one and only youth center.

  9. Remember when the Apaches were feared and respected by whites, blacks, browns and, mostly, by other reds?! Remember when Cochise was a national hero because he confronted a corrupted federal government that wanted to make his people wards of a paternalistic State? All Americans could use a little spirited leadership of that order about now. Sadly, Terry Rambler can’t even provide that for his own tribe. It looks like we all need new leaders very, very badly.

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