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.”