New study reveals a third of Americans think blackface for Halloween is absolutely fine

New study reveals a third of Americans think blackface for Halloween is absolutely fine

Blackface is a form of makeup used by a nonblack person to play a black role. Regardless of one's intent, the practice has an ugly history tethered to the brutal treatment of an oppressed group of people. Sporting blackface in public is bound to offend people, and could even kill a career.

Ralph Northam, the Democratic governor of Virginia, recently found himself in a firestorm of controversy after his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced, revealing a photo of a person in blackface and a person dressed as a KKK member. Northam denied that he's pictured in the photo (which does not explain why it's featured on his yearbook page), and refuses to step down.

However, Northam did admit to darkening his skin to dress up like Michael Jackson for a dance contest in 1984. "I had the shoes, I had a glove, and I used just a little bit of shoe polish to put under my - or on my - cheeks," he told reporters at a press conference. "And the reason I used a very little bit is because, I don’t know if anybody’s ever tried that, but you cannot get shoe polish off."

In a bizarre turn of events, the Democratic Attorney General of Virginia, Mark Herring, also admitted to wearing blackface in the past. "In 1980, when I was a 19-year old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," he said in a statement.

Northam scandal Credit: 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook

These scandals raise a question - what is in the water in Virginia? Also, how many people in the US think that blackface is okay?

Shockingly, a third of Americans think sporting blackface for Halloween is absolutely fine, according to a new Pew Research survey. 39 percent of white adults polled said that it's okay to darken your skin when dressing up like someone of another race for a costume. Only 19 percent of black adults agreed, making white adults twice as likely to approve of the practice. (Meanwhile, 28 percent of Hispanics said blackface is "always or sometimes acceptable.")

The study was conducted from January 22 to February 5, "almost entirely" before Governor Northam's blackface controversy broke. Pew surveyed more than 3,300 people, and a "slight majority" of those polled found it "generally unacceptable" for a white person to wear blackface, even if it's for the purpose of a costume.

Credit: Getty

However, thirty-four percent of Americans polled said they believe the act is totally fine, with Republicans comprising the majority (51 percent). "By contrast, a majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (67 percent) say blackface is not acceptable, with about half saying it’s never acceptable," stated the researchers in their report. "Black and white Democrats hold similar views on this."

The Pew survey about blackface is part of a larger study about race, ethnicity and identity, which will be released later this year. In the meantime, just avoid wearing blackface, even if it's part of a costume. If you want to dress up as Black Panther, Michael Jackson or Falcon, you can wear everything but the blackface, and make the costume work. Unless you're Robert Downey Jr. playing a character that satirizes the practice as part of the brilliant comedy Tropic Thunder, you're probably not going to get away with it.