Black Face controversies have been popping up all over America in recent weeks. Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia, and Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel have all been under fire and admitted to wearing black face. Calls for Northam and Herring of Virginia to resign have been growing louder this week. Ertel of Florida resigned his position as Secretary of State. Louisiana for the most part has avoided the controversies, until now.
Emails sent to local media in Baton Rouge show a year book that includes images of what appears to be two officers in Black Face. The email alleged that one of the officers is Lt. Don Stone who is currently still an officer for the Baton Rouge Police Department. Stone does the crime stoppers reporting for the department. The image shows two men dressed in denim, shades, caps, and posing, with the quote under the photo reading, “Soul Brothers.” The email does not indicate who the second man is.
Vox released a story just this morning discussing the deep racist nature of wearing Black Face. As Jenée Desmond-Harris explained for Vox in 2014, “blackface dates back to minstrel shows in the mid to late 19th century. White actors (who used items like burnt cork, greasepaint, and shoe polish to darken their skin) performed exaggerated and highly racist caricatures of black people, presenting white audiences with a dehumanized image of African Americans, who at the time were disenfranchised and denied basic rights under racial caste systems like Jim Crow laws (in fact, the name “Jim Crow” came from a minstrel character). Black actors also performed in blackface, often because it was the only way white audiences were willing to see black performers.”
The question becomes who are these officers? Why did someone believe it was acceptable to put this in a year book for the Baton Rouge Police Department? Are there other photos like this from members of the department? Most importantly, what does it say about the views the officers have toward black people?
Baton Rouge has seen its share of racial controversies over the last few years. After the killing of Alton Sterling, the police department has been under a fire. Incident after incident has occurred, where members of the community have cried foul to the brutality carried out by officers in north Baton Rouge and black communities in comparison to white communities. Indeed if Don Stone is the officer alleged to be in the photo, what if any response will Chief of Police Murphy Paul have? Also, how will the department navigate the racial impacts of this being unearthed?
Considering this is an officer being paid with tax payer funds, and such an action is offensive to thousands of tax payers in Baton Rouge, what will be done? Ignoring the issue would further show the departments unwillingness to truly bring forth change the community seeks in the relationship between the black community and the police department. As recently as yesterday both Gucci and Prada have pulled Black Face items from their stores and website. For white Americans this has been a way to mock black people and get away with it as a joke, nothing is funny about it. It is racist at its core and should be addressed with more than just a statement. Often it is said that the problem with police departments is they have a culture of bias and racism. I guess in this instance a picture is worth a thousand words.