Another Governor Apologizes for Blackface

Last year Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam admitted and later denied appearing in an 1984 yearbook photograph showing a man in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan headdress. Now a second governor, Kay Ivy of Alabama, acknowledges wearing blackface while at Auburn University.

Details of Ivy’s participation in a racist skit are still emerging, based on a 1967 radio interview when she was vice president of Auburn’s student body. Ben LaRavia, her fiancé then, shared details of the skit involving actors crawling on the floor looking for cigar butts:

As I look at my fiancée across the room, I could see her that night. She had on a pair of blue coveralls and she had put some black paint all over her face and she was — we were — acting out this skit.

The New York Times reported that the recording was discovered when Auburn began digitizing archived audio tapes.

Auburn university notified Ivey’s office.

The governor did not recall the skit or the interview but said she could not deny the obvious, issuing this apology:

I fully acknowledge — with genuine remorse — my participation in a skit like that back when I was a senior in college. While some may attempt to excuse this as acceptable behavior for a college student during the mid-1960s, that is not who I am today, and it is not what my administration represents all these years later. … I offer my heartfelt apologies for the pain and embarrassment this causes, and I will do all I can — going forward — to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s. We have come a long way, for sure, but we still have a long way to go.

The history of blackface, associated with vaudeville and minstrel shows, also can be seen in movies and cartoons (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd) and entails white actors wearing dark makeup. Depictions are exaggerated, demeaning, and responsible for stereotypes that still exist today.

Last year NBC “Today” host Megyn Kelly appeared to accept blackface, leading to widespread criticism and, eventually, to her show’s cancellation.

Alabama’s Ivey is the second governor within a year to acknowledge using blackface. Virginia Gov. Northam at first acknowledged and then denied that he was one of the two figures in a racist yearbook photo. He called a news conference, claiming he would have remembered that, because he once used shoe polish in a dance competition in which he impersonated Michael Jackson.

You can view that disastrous news conference here.

The fashion industry also has had to deal with blackface ornaments and products, leading to several apologies in the past year. They included shows, sweaters and ornaments.

Gucci issued this apology:

Prada issued this apology:

Katy Perry issued this apology:

I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from Katy Perry Collections.

Living Media Ethics contains a chapter on bias and stereotypes and another on fairness and apologies according to ethical standards in advertising, journalism and public relations.

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