Dr. David J. Leonard: An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth

An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth

This is not the first time I have written an open letter to you, and clearly my previous letters have not had the necessary impact. Despite history lesson after history lesson, from a myriad of people, certain sh*t continues. Despite reminders that Blackface is never funny, the “N-Word” should never be uttered in any context, and making jokes about racial violence, domestic violence, or sexual violence is never okay. They are all forms of violence that continue to be perpetuated and celebrated each and every day. While the racism, sexism, and homophobia evident in these social spaces and at GOP political rallies are nothing new, the justification, the denial, and the overall societal complacency about racism (and sexism) because our president is black, speaks to a broader issue confronting America.

I know how hard conversations about race can be, and how invariably these conversations lead to claims about the “race card” or it being “just a joke,” and I know the defensiveness that ensues, but if not now, when? Today I read about a horrible and disheartening example of American racism. At a pep rally at Waverly High School, which is located in Upstate New York and is 97% white, three white students decided to put on a skit involving blackface, simulation of domestic violence, and a disgusting level of callousness. The sight of students in blackface, as if that makes them look like Chris Brown and Rihanna as opposed to Al Jolson and Shirley Temple, is yet another reminder that we have a long way to go with race. And when I say “we,” I mean white America. The sight of a skit designed to mock and find humor in domestic violence is evidence of a misogynistic culture that sanctions and promotes violence against women. Within the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds; “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women.” In fact, 1 in 5 teenage girls reports having a boyfriend who threatened violence at the prospects of a breakup. So spare me “it’s just a joke” or “relax” responses. It isn’t funny; is reprehensible, sickening, and should be condemned nationwide. And while “it” is the skit and the response (yes, those in the comments section), it is also a racist and sexist culture that perpetuates these daily examples of violence. I am angry and wonder why you aren’t similarly outraged, so I am going to make it plain.


There is no acceptable reason to ever don Blackface. It’s not a joke, it ain’t funny, and it’s not some creative license that adds to the value of your artistic endeavors. Blackface has a long tradition that is part and parcel with white supremacy. It is part of a history of dehumanization, of denied citizenship, and efforts to rationalize, excuse, and justify state violence. From lynchings or mass incarceration, white supremacy has utilized dehumanization as part of its moral and legal justification for violence. Spare me your reference to “White Chicks,” the Chappelle Show. Stop with your references to satire. Spare me your dismissive arguments about intent and not being racially motivated. Blackface is part of the violent history of white supremacy. If you don’t know, now you know, and if you still don’t know, go here or here.


While we are on the subject, there is no place for racist costumes that dehumanize and demean, that mock and ridicule, that stereotype and otherwise reenact a larger history of racism. As the students at Ohio University reminded us this year, they “are a culture, not a costume.” Were you not listening or just don’t care? The costumes have to go along with those theme parties. I am talking about “ghetto parties, “cowboy and Indian parties,” “pimp and ho parties,” “South of the Border parties or any number of gatherings that see humor in mocking and demeaning others. If dressing up “as janitors, female gangsters and pregnant women” for Cinco de Mayo is in your plans or a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration includes a “gangsta party,” or Black History month is celebrated with the most disturbing stereotypes, it’s time to reevaluate. Just say no!

Continue reading at Dr. David J. Leonard: An Open Letter to White America, Particularly White Youth.

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