On Perceptions Of Racism

1. “Prehistoric Man.” Above is a musical number from the acclaimed, indeed classic, MGM musical “On the Town,” starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin, Ann Miller (the soloist), Vera-Ellen, and Betty Garrett. Questions:

  • Did it make you feel uncomfortable? Why or why not?
  • Should the number make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Is it blackface without blackface? Does the African sculpture late in the number matter? How about those outrageous masks and head gear?
  • If it’s not blackface without blackface, what would be the politically correct objection? That it offends cave men?
  • Would a black performer in the number eliminate any objections to it?

I felt weird about the number the first time I saw it, decades ago. Yesterday, when I watched it again, I really felt uncomfortable, and resented the fact that I did. This is what the culture does to you, whether you like it or not. Is a culture where a silly musical number like “Prehistoric Man” is considered offensive healthier than the culture that spawned it?

2. What planet was Ralph Northam raised on? The Virginia Governor, who has managed to stave off calls for him to resign despite a) wearing blackface in medical school and b) being completely unbelievable in his various explanations of when and why, has also revealed himself to be so ignorant of race issues and history that it boggles the mind that he could have been elected in the first place. Behold:

  • He dressed up using blackface to emulate Michael Jackson.
  • He saw nothing amiss for 30 years in having a photo of a man in blackface (possibly him, though he denies it) and an individual in KKK robes on his medical yearbook page.
  • He had to be told by a campaign worker in 2018 that wearing blackface was considered objectionable and a reference to racist minstrel shows and Jim Crow.
  • He was unaware until recently that the film “Birth of a Nation” is considered racist. To this I have to say, “Whaaa?” A public official should have some minimal knowledge of history, and this is the Governor of Virginia, birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, who championed both the KKK and “Birth of a Nation.”
  • In his interview with Gayle King on CBS, Northam referred to slaves as “indentured servants.” She had to correct him. At least he didn’t call slaves “unpaid interns.”
  • In his Washington Post interview, Northam somehow managed to hold everyone else responsible for his inexplicable ignorance: “It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equityThere are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entre­pre­neur­ship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes….First of all what I plan to do . . . is to make sure that we have sensitivity training — in our Cabinet, in our agencies. I also plan to reach out to our colleges and universities and talk about sensitivity training. Even into the K through 12 age range, that’s very important.”

The fact that Northam was and is jaw-droppingly obtuse and ignorant of the history of race in this country does not mean everyone is similarly handicapped.

  • Then the Governor had the gall to say  on CBS, “Virginia needs someone that can heal. There’s no better person to do that than a doctor. Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass. And that’s why I’m not going anywhere.”

Ugh. The doctor line is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, and too facile to be accepted with anything but mockery. Doctors heal wounds and illnesses, not social and political maladies. Meanwhile, nothing in Northam’s handling of this scandal shows courage or a moral compass. What it shows is cultural obliviousness, a refusal to accept responsibility, and desperation to hold onto power despite being proven unfit to do so.

Northam doesn’t know racism when he sees it, and such a leader is hardly the one to address the problem.

I bet he’d enjoy “Prehistoric Man.”

 

________________________

Sources: The Hill 1, 2, Buzzfeed, National Review

23 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Government & Politics, Leadership, Race

23 responses to “On Perceptions Of Racism

  1. A.M. Golden

    Betty Garrett was blacklisted during the 1950s due to ties to Communists. I’m actually more angered by that than by the primitiveness of “Prehistoric Man”.

  2. Ah…” equity”…Yada…yada…yada. The real code words for rally ’round the idiot! That’ll energize the lefties! His own S.O.S. I actually had a smattering of sympathy for Northam like I did for Franken, but then he opened his yap. So much for sympathy.

    • Andy N.

      I don’t think it’s meant to be racist or insensitive. I haven’t seen the movie, not being the biggest fan of musicals, but watching this scene, it seems more like they’re wanting to harken back to a simpler time, devoid of all the worries of modern social standing and appearances. They want a time filled with fun, not stress of keeping up with the Joneses. It shouldn’t make people uncomfortable, but maybe think about whether what they’re chasing after is really that important. The African statue doesn’t matter. It’s just another artifact that they use in the dance routine. The way they use the props was representative of how ancient cultures were viewed back when the film came out. We have better understanding of ancient societies now; this kind of routine wouldn’t be scripted today, and the reason should be that we understand better how ancient societies worked and to portray them over simplistically is not a good way to teach people about ancient cultures, even if that isn’t the primary purpose of the piece. About the only objection I can see is that the sound engineer was either lazy or inattentive; the drum beats and tapping don’t line up with what’s on the screen.

  3. Aleksei

    #2 If one good thing came out of this scandal, it’s the fact that the Democrats won’t be able to wield their Racism bat in the upcoming election while Northam & Co are in Virginia. Any debate that will start veering into racism, you just say Virginia and the crowd gasps. i’m sure they will try to use, but the cognitive dissonance will be too great to overcome. To top it off, if the media gets too uppity, just show instances of their colleagues doing blackface, like Joy Behar, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, etc, and ask them if they approve, and also remind them that Megyn Kelly was fired over comments, yes, comments about blackface. Cue Alinksy’s “make the opponent live by their rules”, and bring on the popcorn.

    • Michael R.

      Oh, I bet you are wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week Northam says he needs to stay in office because otherwise a Republican will be in charge and Trump is racist. I would guarantee that 75% of Democrats would agree with that logic.

      • Other Bill

        I’m with Michael R, aleksie. The Dems and lefties will not give up any of their cudgels. You’re really expecting rationality? They use “racist” and “sexist” as if they’re tossing out free T shirts at a baseball game.

        • Other Bill

          They bad mouth millionaires and Pelosi and Warren are both multi millionaires, Pelosi seriously so. Bernie Sanders has purchased a dacha on Lake Champlain! With his wife’s inherited money! Hilarious!

  4. Absalom

    The first Blacks in Virginia were indentured servents. You might not like it but it’s true. The history of involuntary servitude in this country is much more complicated than the fairy tale you’re told in school.

    • Michael R.

      I was going to post the same thing. He clearly was talking about the very first Africans brought to Virginia and they were indentured servants.

      Great, now we both had to defend Governor Northam.

    • I like it fine, but it’s absolutely, 100%, irrelevant to 2019 race relations or pretty much anything that came afterwards. If Northam had referenced free blacks as if they were the template, that would have been equally obtuse. Yes, we know all blacks weren’t slaves. All blacks aren’t blacks. Some blacks wore blackface. Black is the absence or color, not colored. None of which is germane to the issue at hand.

  5. I felt weird about the number the first time I saw it, decades ago. Yesterday, when I watched it again, I really felt uncomfortable, and resented the fact that I did. This is what the culture does to you, whether you like it or not. Is a culture where a silly musical number like “Prehistoric Man” is considered offensive healthier than the culture that spawned it?

    But it is not a ‘silly musical number’ only. It is a kind of a parody of but condensation of a former anthropology. If I only had the time to explain!

    This view of ‘the primitive’ is based in late scholasticism which defines levels of hierarchies in the world.

    It was formerly possible — in fact necessary and good — to ‘bring civilization to the heathen’ just as it was necessary to bring the spiritual light of Salvation and the clarifying power of logos.

    The body of man was a microcosmic representation of the Cosmos. And European culture was the mind, the intelligence and the organizing principle. This would have been a standard view of *reality* in the 16th century. The time of Shakespeare for example. All of our important categories of value stem out of transcendental definitions. I am not making this up! Consider the meaning of the Witches on the Heath in MacBeth. It runs through every aspect of Shakespeare’s works, and is finalized in The Tempest. (Ariel vs Caliban of course).

    What is actually ‘disturbing’ is to become aware of how our *European categories* of value — the idea of what is high and low, superior and inferior, desirable and undesirable, excluded from paideia or included in it — have become contaminated by all the influences that one can clearly notice in the dance-enactment. There, you have the primary influences that have affected and steered American culture in the Postwar and, through America, the world. This is what America is now. It is a descent into brutality in the worst anthropological senses.

    It has to do with abandoning ‘transcendental categories’ of valuation, for categories of value related to sentiment and sensation and pure physical experience. I recently watched Singing in the Rain which is unreally accomplished as far as choreography goes. It really is a kind of masterful achievement. But the more I thought about it, the more it dawned to me that it was absolutely devoid of any transcendental aspect!

    In order for there to be and to exist a *transcendental aspect* one has to see the world through *other eyes*. The eyes of higher mind. Which is to say ‘the eyes of the former metaphysics’. Now, in our present, people are being raised within completely contingents structures of view and also meaning.

    But as Samuel Beckett wrote: i can’t go on / i’ll go on

  6. Chris Marschner

    Call me a Neanderthal but the most offensive thing in this number is the inclusion of dinosaur skeletons among a variety what appear to be primitive objects d’ art created by humanoids of many different periods.

    Here is my interpretation of the number. Anne Miller did not want to be wooed by a fancy modern man with commitment in mind she wanted to be taken by one that would engage in a rough and tumble one night stand. Such a statement by a woman suggesting sexual desire would be unheard of in the 40’s and 50’s.

    I suppose if you want to find racism in the number you would focus on the pieces that appear to be African in design and associate Africans as primitive or highly sexualized because they copulate like animals. If that is the case including a black man in the number would reinforce that concept. If we subscribe to the paleological belief that all humanoids orignated in sub-Saharan Africa, it is reasonable to associate early man with that continent and lacking any photgenically appropriate icons of eary man they used things deemed primitive. This is not racist it is just expedient.

    If we break this skit down we have sailors on leave. We know what they are after. We also have Ann Miller and a sidekick . Anne wants a he man because he men are real men. So the sidekick that reminds me of a frumpy librarian gains some courage to be sexual too.

    Sometimes a silly little number is just that. It could also be a precursor to the sexual revolution that is right around the corner in our culture.

    As for Northam, I only ask him to reconcile his comment on healing with his statement about infanticide. He is an ass and needs to go.

    • Other Bill

      But Chris, if all the asses in elected office have to go, who will be there to turn out the lights? I still think impeachment or recall are the way to go. Short of that, wait until the next election. Shaming people out of office is just not a good process. It’s not a process at all.

      Again, a neighbor has a bumper sticker on his spare car that says “Impeach the Moron.” Doesn’t say which one. But I’m just not sure being a moron is an impeachable offense. Just not any way to run a railroad.

      • Chris Marschner

        OB
        How he goes or when he goes is up to the VA electorate. I just think he is an ass, much like our former MD governor who thought he would be king.

    • Another Mike

      Those artifacts in the video (not the dinosaur skeletons) looked more Polynesian to me, like what I saw in the “Enchanted Tiki Room” in Disneyland years ago. I half expected them to break out in song at any minute.
      But, Boy!, can that Ann Miller dance. Great legs, too. (Had to give my inner Neanderthal a moment. Sorry.)

      Me uncomfortable watching? No.

  7. Glenn Logan

    1 Prehistoric man

    Answers:

    * Not even a little bit. I assume the reason is because I take it as it is, a musical number intended to entertain, not to denigrate or insult. I feel no ways triggered by it, nor does it generate even a modest cringe — to the contrary, I find it charming.

    * No.

    * No. “Blackface without blackface,” to me, is a nonsequitur. The masks and headgear are not there to anger me or an African American, but entertain both. If someone takes offense, it’s because they take themselves far, far too seriously.

    * The PC objection, which requires no logic or reason, would be “cultural appropriation in the name of entertainment.” As you well know, we can’t have fun in the world of the Left. It’s been outlawed as too triggering.

    There are no cave men to be offended anymore, and haven’t been for millenia. This is an objective fact that that renders consideration of their feelings moot. Unless, of course, the Geico commercial series represents actual reality and I live in a fantasy.

    * No, then the objection would be that he’s an “Uncle Tom,” or whatever the modern Leftist equivalent is.

    Is a culture where a silly musical number like “Prehistoric Man” is considered offensive healthier than the culture that spawned it?

    In my opinion, not only no but hell no. If the culture that finds this number offensive were human, the proper response would be, “He’s dead, Jim.”

  8. Hang on folks, it’s the Silly Season!

    The talented Kamala Harris is the latest to get BUSTED while highfreakin’lariously trying to pander to the Black vote.

    What…no “Hot Sauce” in her purse?

  9. Jen G.

    What I got from the number is a rejection of the principles of affirmative consent. Or something that foreshadowed the area of the American female subconscious that precipitated the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon about sixty years in advance.

    Also, if you are going to read racism into the portrayals of pre-historic man, then this song is a celebration of the trope ‘white women want black men.’

    So…. not sure what I should be offended by in any of that.

  10. JimHodgson

    Re #2: Among his many deflections, Northam is joining the ranks of the Confederaphobes, pledging to take a harder line on the removal of Confederate monuments, stating “if there are statues, if there are monuments out there that provoke this type of hatred and bigotry, they need to be in museums.” It is unclear what on earth the monuments have to do with Northam’s classless behavior in his medical school years. Perhaps he is signaling that the statues of great Confederate generals are the root cause of his (generously speaking) poor judgement? Of course, the real reason for this stance is simple: The position of the priestly liberal Democratic Party is that Virginia (like the rest of the South) has yet to be cleansed of its sins, and Northam, for the sake of naked self-interest, is gladly genuflecting before them. Disgusting.

  11. 1: -“uncomfortable?” No, I don’t have any preference to the Neanderthal types of guys, but whatever floats her boat. Nor do I think she really means a caveman, but an old-fashioned guy… brave provider and protective like a vet in post-war era, hence the insulting terms for newer men in the song, now probably beta or metrosexuals.
    -“Should the number make you feel uncomfortable?” No, it is very silly. I doubt a Cro Mag would find expert tap dancing enticing enough to drag her away on camera. The only risk is how ‘prehistoric man’ would be conflated with modern personality and appearance stereotypes: hunters, boxers, football jocks.
    -“Is it blackface without blackface? Does the African sculpture late in the number matter? How about those outrageous masks and head gear?” No. IIRC, blackface was comedy slapstick and later mocking, not elaborate tap choreography. The African art or other masks were no more significant than the Neander one she danced longer around at the beginning. It would have been a trifecta if there was a Polynesian or an Indian life-sized one as well. The masks were attempts to refer to more primitive men than just two.
    -“If it’s not blackface without blackface, what would be the politically correct objection? That it offends cave men?” I really do not get why there is any objection. She’s spending the whole song admiring primitive men. If you conflate primitive men with Africans of today, isn’t that a compliment to them? She admires them. Maybe the objections are because she doesn’t want movie stars and dapper dans?
    -“Would a black performer in the number eliminate any objections to it?” No. They could have included some black tap dancers (There were brothers who were huge influences) as other sailors and it would change the number, not at all, and the PC police would still be out. The song admires men as a group with no apology, and that is the reason.

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