Tag Archives: segregation

Ethics Addendum: Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire, And The Good “Blackface,” The John Bubbles Connection

The post about Fred Astaire’s dark-make-up-assisted homage to tap-dancing legend Bill Robinson in “Swing Time” was incomplete, both historically and ethically. This post should remedy that.

The dance number in question, “Bojangles of Harlem,” was, as I wrote in the introduction, Fred’s homage to two great black tap dancers who were teachers and inspirations for him, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John Bubbles.  The post explained why the salute to Robinson was important, but did not elaborate more on Bubbles. He was not as big a star as Robinson nor as well known, either at the time of the film or ever, and is less remembered today. Nevertheless he was an important cultural figure, and it can be argued that Astaire’s number was really more of a tribute to Bubbles than Robinson, not that many noticed.

First, you need to know about Bubbles. Born John Sublett (1902-1986), he teamed at the age of ten  with the six-year-old Ford Lee “Buck” Washington in a decades-lasting act, “Buck and Bubbles.” in which Buck stood and played piano and Bubbles sang and danced.  As adults, “Buck and Bubbles” ultimately  played at New York’s Palace Theatre, the London Palladium, the Ziegfeld Follies, the Cotton Club, the Apollo, and became the first blacks to perform at Radio City Music Hall. Their popularity allowed them to break the color barriers in theaters across the country. Continue reading

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Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire, And The Good “Blackface”

We recently came through the usual Halloween bag of “blackface” controversies, and Ethics Alarms, as it has before, tried to guide the discussion to the material distinctions that social justice warriors, who strategically deal in absolutes when seeking power through real and contrived offense, refuse to acknowledge or are intellectually incapable of doing so. The short version of the Ethics Alarms message: make-up for legitimate theatrical purposes isn’t “blackface,” isn’t “racist,” and shouldn’t be object of knee jerk condemnation based on emotion or ignorance.

Today Turner Movie Classics showed “Swing Time,” the 1936 musical that is probably the high water mark in the Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire canon. It has the best song (“The Way You Look Tonight”), the best novelty scene (Astaire pretending to be a klutz in a dance lesson with Ginger, then shocking her and her boss—and saving her job— by showing “what a great teacher she is” by dancing, well, like Fred Astaire) and arguably two of the best dances by the two, “Never Gonna Dance” and “Waltz in Swing Time.” The film also contains a controversial “blackface” number, “Bojangles of Harlem,” in which Fred pays homage to two great black tap dancers who were teachers and inspirations for him, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and John Bubbles. Local TV stations have long been reluctant to show “Swingtime” because of guaranteed complaints that the number is racist, or, if they cut the number (which is unconscionable), complaints pour in from film and Astaire fans that they have defaced a classic out of misplaced political correctness.

If one argues that the number is “racist” because of Fred’s make-up, then one is necessarily arguing that no white performer can ever offer an admiring  salute to an African-American great by emulating him. Astaire’s choreography (by Hermes Pan) contained specific references to trademark steps and gestures by both Bubbles and Robinson, though more of the former than the latter. (Some would say, maybe even Fred, that this was because he didn’t dare set himself up to be compared to Robinson, whom many regard as the greatest tap-dancer of them all.) Blackface, as typified by minstrel shows, was a burlesque of negative black stereotypes. There isn’t a hint of this in Astaire’s number: he wears dark make-up because he is honoring two contemporary black dance stars who he knew, learned from, and respected. The make-up is the epitome of a legitimate theatrical device, and racially demeaning neither in intent nor effect. Those who see it as such are either deliberately misconstruing the number, or don’t know what they are talking about. (There is an unfortunate racially demeaning set piece that appears for a couple of seconds at the start, a large caricature of exaggerated black features. You can take the film out of 1936, but you can’t take 1936 out of the film.)

The ironic part of the effort to quarantine “Bojangles of Harlem” is that the number is one of the few reminders in our culture of who Bill Robinson was, and—here’s Jack on his “duty to remember” and cultural literacy soapbox again–he was an important figure in American theatrical, cultural and civil rights history that should be remembered.  Instead, Robinson is almost completely forgotten: I bet most of the NAACP members who get up in arms when TMC shows “Swing Time” have no idea how significant Robinson was, and the contributions he made to art and society. Continue reading

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Saturday Evening Ethics Update, 4/14/2018: Important Women Die Too, Fundraising Insanity, And Campus Segregation Is “In” Again

Good evening, everyone!

(This morning was completely unmanageable…)

1. This day in history..April 14 belongs with December 7, November 22 and September 11 as the four evil dates in American history, for Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on this day in 1865, yanking the course of events into a new riverbed. Who knows where we might be today if Booth had been foiled?

2. Oh, yeah, themThe New York Times is suddenly including more obituaries of women in its pages, the result of a ridiculously late realization last month that the paper’s  stories of death warranting special note had been overwhelmingly male from the paper’s birth. In March, the paper confessed,

Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones.

Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

It is a welcome reform. The Times is also looking back over history to remedy the past bias and injustice, launching a special project to publish, a bit late, many of those obituaries that it had failed to write when remarkable women died. You can find the latest additions here.

3. What’s going on here? Wall Street billionaire Stephen A. Schwarzman agreed to give $25 million to the Abington, Pennsylvania high school he attended  in the 1960s. The money would finance  a massive upgrade in the facility. The school, in return, agreed to name the school in his honor, hang a portrait of him in the building, honor his twin brothers elsewhere in the school, and give him the right to review the project’s contractors and approve a new school logo.

Then the deal was announced. Local residents appeared at a standing-room-only, five-hour school board meeting last week to protest.  There was an online petition (naturally), and calls for school officials to resign.  And what was it about the quid pro quo that the people objected to? The quote from Robert Durham, who works at the local Chevrolet dealership and sent two sons through Abington Senior High School is explanatory as any:

“I just think there’s too much influence about big money, Wall Street money, in our society,” he told reporters.

Oh. Continue reading

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“U.S. Race Relations Have Finally Reached The Point Where They Make No Sense Whatsoever” Sunday #1: Why Is There Still An American Tennis Association?

Imagine, if you will, if the integration of Major League Baseball in 1947 had not eventually ended the Negro Baseball Leagues, as it had by 1951. Imagine if, long after Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, Willy Mays, Henry Aaron, Bob Gibson, Ken Griffey Jr, Derek Jeter and all the other African American greats now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown or headed there had been celebrated, cheered and loved by all Americans of every color and creed as they starred for teams in the National and American Leagues, there were still professional baseball leagues that were predominantly restricted to African American players. Wouldn’t you consider that a strange anomaly?

Yet the American Tennis Association, founded in 1917 as a response to the segregation of U.S. tennis, is still operating, and currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. It is a segregated sports organization. The New York Times published a feature on the ATA this week that began, “Other African-American sports organizations, such as baseball’s Negro Leagues, faded after integration, but the American Tennis Association has remained vibrant.”

Isn’t that wonderful? We still have a vibrant racially-restricted tennis organization!

In typical cowardly Times fashion, the article never hints at or acknowledges the obvious problems: hypocrisy and anachronism. The two most famous and popular female professional tennis players in the sport are black, yet the  American Tennis Association still fosters  segregation by race. The ATA’s mission, according to its website, is “To Promote Black Tennis in America.” That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? There is no such sport as “Black Tennis,” which I guess would be played with black tennis balls or something. No, this is an organization that only involves black players, holds tournaments where one must be African American to compete, and to which white tennis players don’t matter.

Nice. And at this point in our nation’s existence, wrong, destructive,  offensive, and promoting a double standard that cannot be defended. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/11/17

GOOD MORNING!!!

1. From sources within Google management, we learn that the firing of the diversity memo writer, James Demore, was hotly debated, but in the end...

“…Damore’s focus on biology really made it clear that he had crossed the line.” What turned the tide, said sources, was when it was noted that if Damore’s dubious contentions about women’s skills were replaced by those about race or religion, there would be no debate.’

Ethics diagnosis: Bias made them stupid…that is, Google’s political correctness bias. If someone says that blacks, for example, are biologically handicapped for certain jobs, that’s bigotry and ignorance, the equivalent of poor Al Campanis’s  infamous statement to Ted Koppel that blacks “lacked the necessities ” to manage a baseball team. If someone says that holding religious beliefs suggests one may have biological disadvantages, then that individual is, of course, an idiot.

Women, however, are biologically different from men. If this was the reasoning behind Demore’s dismissal, then it is an example of regarding fealty to cant and politically correct mythology as more important than dealing with complex realities.

2. Professional Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord reacted with a tweeted Sieg Heil! to  Left Wing attack group Media Matters organizing a boycott of the Fox News star’s sponsors to force Sean Hannity off the air.  CNN responded by firing Lord, saying, “Nazi salutes are indefensible.”

Except that Lord was not performing a Nazi salute, but alluding to it to make the very accurate point that the Media Matters wing of progressive America is anti-free speech, and, Nazi-like, determined to shut down inconvenient dissent. Sieg Heil!, in the context of Lord’s tweet, did not mean “Yay Hitler, and let’s kill some Jews!” but rather “Media Matters embodies fascism of the left.”

Which it does.

This story is just full of detestable people and organizations. Jeffrey Lord is a dishonest hack whom CNN keeps parading before its viewers to pretend that the network is “balanced” in its relentless critical commentary on the President. Typically Lord is the sole defender of the Administration on a panel of multiple virulent critics, presided over by one of CNN’s myriad anti-Trump hosts. Sean Hannity is a knee-jerk conservative without scruples, perception or shame. Media Matters is a left-wing propaganda machine that makes a mockery of the term “media watchdog” by its very existence, and it is not unfair to rate its creator and leader, David Brock, as unstable. And I don’t like Nazi salutes either, though to call them “indefensible” is just plain wrong. They are defensible on the History Channel, to show how Nazis behaved. They are defensible in films like “Valkyrie,” since Tom Cruise’s doomed hero’s reluctant salute was a central theme.

It is defensible in Mel Brooks movies, which feature the salute frequently, to mock the Nazis. It is defensible in “Dr. Strangelove,” to make the running joke that mysterious ex-Nazi genius has a Nazi arm with mind of its own.

And it is defensible to use the Nazi salute derisively to say,”David Brock and Media Matters are fascist in the their methods and attitudes towards free speech.”

CNN’s firing of Lord falsely implied that he was referencing the salute positively. By doing this, the increasingly unprofessional and untrustworthy network was also able to impugn President Trump; after all, if his most visible defender in a Nazi, that makes the President Hitler, right?

In this particular basket of deplorables, CNN may be the most unethical of all. Continue reading

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From The Ethics Alarms Double Standards Files: The Women-Only “Wonder Woman” Screening [UPDATED]

The infuriating thing is that that not only are they flaming hypocrites, they are self-righteous about it.

Writes the pop culture website Too Fab, a proud young social justice warrior pop culture hangout,

“A “Wonder Woman” screening exclusively for women at the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin has pissed off a lot of fragile men.”

No, the outrageous double standard represented by the screening has pissed off anyone with a modicum of ethics comprehension, and should.

If you don’t immediately see the problem, you’re part of it. Even the galactically tone-deaf Hillary Clinton didn’t hold a women-only campaign rally (although her post-campaign rally at the Wellesley College graduation yesterday was pretty close to one.)  Barack Obama’s most rudimentary ethics alarm would have sounded if an aide proposed a blacks-only event. Hey, let’s promote the NFL with a men-only exhibition game! Given their promotional instincts, I’m surprised Alamo Drafthouse theater didn’t have a screening of the racist, “Whites are trying to destroy us all!” horror film “Get Out” restricted to endangered African-Americans, and maybe balance it off with a whites-only classic film screening of “Birth of a Nation.”

The striking aspect of this per se double standard display is that the Left is defending it, and mocking its critics using Swiss-cheese logic worthy of an evolution denier.

Here’s NY Magazine: Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day (2): “Comment Of The Day: ‘Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria,VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too’”

This is the second Comment of the Day on the post about the Alexandria, VA gym that kicked white supremacist, aka “Nazi”, Richard Spencer out because a Georgetown professor found his presence there, in town, in the universe, offensive.

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Old Town Sport And Health in Alexandria,VA. Why? Because White Nationalists Have A Right To Work Out Too”:

Stipulated: This person believes things that we think are wrong, and we want him, ideally, to stop believing them.

I assert that shunning him is counterproductive with regards to getting him to stop believing these things. He is almost certainly aware of the public opinion of Nazis, and he evidently doesn’t care, so peer pressure is already shown not to work. Besides, truth is not determined by a majority vote, so if we act like our numbers are the major argument against the Nazi ideology, or whatever similar ideology this person subscribes to, it not only weakens our position in his eyes, but also leads us to forget the real reasons for what we believe.

We have at least four options:

Continue reading

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