About 1 in 3 Americans thinks blackface is an acceptable Halloween costume, poll finds

About 1 in 3 Americans thinks blackface is an acceptable Halloween costume, poll finds
Demonstrators hold signs and chant outside the Governors Mansion at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Feb. 2. (Source: AP Photo/Steve Helber/AP)

(Gray News) – A new poll indicates that as many as a third of all Americans believe it is at least sometimes acceptable for white people to wear blackface as a Halloween costume.

The poll’s results were released by the Pew Research Center on Monday.

It also found that nearly 40 percent of white respondents believed “a white person using makeup to darken their skin so they appear to be a different race as part of a Halloween costume” is always or sometimes acceptable.

By contrast, 28 percent of Hispanic respondents fell into that category, and just 18 percent of black respondents.

More than half of black respondents, 53 percent, said it was strictly never acceptable, and another 13 percent said it was rarely acceptable.

According to Pew, the survey was mostly conducted before Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced calls for his resignation for a blackface photo appearing on his medical school yearbook page. He has denied being in the photo, but admitted to wearing blackface for a Michael Jackson costume on another occasion. The state’s attorney general also revealed he had once dressed in a blackface costume.

Blackface has its origins in minstrel shows, performances popularized in the 1800s and early 1900s in which white actors would wear dark makeup and portray black people as deeply demeaning stereotypes.

The president of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, tweeted that “blackface in any manner is always racist and never okay” after Northam’s blackface revelation. The organization called on him to resign.

Younger white respondents rejected blackface in greater numbers than their older counterparts. More than 60 percent of white respondents aged 18-29 said it was never or rarely acceptable, compared with nearly half (45 percent) of white respondents aged 50-64 who said it was always or sometimes acceptable.

Just more than half of older white respondents, aged 65-plus, and white respondents aged 30-49 found it rarely or never acceptable, both about 10 percent more than the 50-64 bracket.

Both Northam, 59, and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, 57, fall into that grouping.

“Because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup,” Herring said of his blackface costume at a 1980 college party.

While the Virginia politicians under fire for their revelations are both Democrats, Republicans responding to the poll were much more likely to find blackface costumes acceptable (50 percent) than Democrats (21 percent).

Pew also asked Americans about dressing up in another culture’s traditional dress for a Halloween costume, and the attitudes of white respondents were found to be more accepting of that practice. More than 65 percent of white respondents said it was always or sometimes acceptable, compared to 46 percent of Hispanic respondents and 42 percent of black respondents.

According to Pew, the poll was part of a larger study that will be released later this year and examine issues of race and identity.

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