Diaz failed to arrive at why blackface was problematic

To the Editor:

I found Reny Diaz’s article “‘I donned blackface as part of my costume’” (11/14) extremely troubling. I do not doubt that Diaz truly feels remorseful about his decision to wear blackface a year ago on Halloween.

Yet it seems to me that Diaz did not arrive at the crux of why his behavior was problematic in his article. I agree using makeup to assume the facial features of different races is insensitive, for the reasons Diaz outlined.

Blackface makeup has a special history in this country. Diaz alludes to this crucial difference between the makeup and blackface, but doesn’t seize upon it. White vaudeville minstrels used blackface makeup as they spread vicious stereotypes about African-Americans. Anyone wearing blackface mischievously is guilty of flippancy towards the incalculable damage caused by the stereotypes blackface is inextricably linked with.

While it is not my place to find fault with Diaz’s sincere and public apology, I have to take issue with his tone. The author speaks of his pre-Halloween 2006 self as if he were a completely different person from the sensitized and chastened Reny Diaz of today.

Yes, people make mistakes out of ignorance. Thanks in large measure to the tolerance-normative environment of institutions like Yale, people learn from their mistakes. But people proclaim a radical change of attitude and subject their former selves to didactic and withering self criticism in only two cases: Either they are St. Augustine in the Confessions, or they are indicting themselves in a Stalinist kangaroo court. Both are inappropriate models for Diaz’s situation.

The article’s headline, furthermore, is shamelessly designed to grab the reader’s attention: “I donned blackface as part of my costume.”

John Hannon

Nov. 14

Hannon is a junior in Silliman College.

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