VCU hosts panel discussion on blackface amid scandals surrounding Northam, Herring

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Commonwealth University hosted a panel discussion on blackface Monday evening. 

The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture hosted “Blackface, the Scandal and the Media: A Discussion About Racism in Virginia.” The event was held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the University Student Commons Theater, located at 907 Floyd Ave. 

“In the Robertson School, we’re strongly committed to diversity and inclusion and we are very excited and proud to welcome a distinguished panel to discuss this important and timely topic with the university and Richmond communities,” said Hong Cheng, Ph.D., professor and director of the Robertson School in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The event, which 8News attended, featured Richmond-area journalists and VCU faculty members.

Woven into the history of our country are painful images of blackface. Hollywood characters darkened their faces for comic relief. Historians say blackface has projected offensive and animalistic representations of African-Americans since the 1830s. 

“I think it’s traumatizing to see your people to made a fool of over and over again,” Janea Tyler, a VCU senior, said at Monday’s discussion. 

White people dressed up as plantation slaves in minstrel performances.

“Thomas Dartmouth Rice or “Daddy Rice” who was a white man who darkened his face after observing African American slaves, dressed in clothes of a slave, and then mocked African Americans by acting like a baboon on stage and he called this character Jim Crow,” said Dr. Clarence Thomas, VCU associate professor of broadcast journalism. 

In a crowded auditorium, panelists discussed why Virginia is still dealing with blackface. 

“I’m honestly not surprised that it happened here,” said Enrique Diaz, another VCU senior. “After all, Richmond was the Capitol of the Confederacy so I feel like that’s just the history demonstrating itself then coming to light.”

Now that Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admit to wearing blackface themselves, a new generation faces an old stereotype. 

“It’s disheartening that people that you,” Tyler said. “I voted for Northam, so it’s almost like I’ve been made a fool of.”

The panelists spoke about how educating the public on the history behind blackface is the next step to help people to understand. 

The event on Monday is part of the Robertson School’s ongoing speaker series. Kristen Cavallo, CEO of the Martin Agency, will discuss “Female leadership in the age of #MeToo” on March 25. 

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