FanDuel - WFBC

November 02, 2011

NHL Player Wears Blackface for Halloween: Phoenix Coyotes NHL player Raffi Torres and his wife, Gianna, dressed in blackface as rapper Jay-Z and singer Beyonce Knowles at a Halloween party, sparking outrage when a photo of the couple was shared on Twitter. "For those who forgotten their history -- and these two folks clearly did -- blackface was a type of makeup worn by vaudeville performers in the 19th century as a parody of African Americans. It was degrading then, and it is degrading now," writes Bill Plaschke.

posted by rcade to hockey at 04:41 PM - 32 comments

Reserving any judgment on the propriety of the costume, I'm not quite sure it can be properly termed blackface. Personally, I think Plaschke is misusing the term, but if he is, so are a bunch of other news outlets. I'm also curious about the logic in his underlying case, and what his point really is. He seems to be saying that the only reason anyone might think that Torres' costume is appropriate is because Phoenix is a racist town. Does that mean that anyone who might not share his outrage at the costume is also racist? Just curious.

Also-I ran a quick google search and didn't see anything, but did anyone solicit an opinion from Jay Z or Beyonce regarding the costume? I'd be interested to hear what either of them makes of the whole kerfuffle.

posted by tahoemoj at 05:19 PM on November 02

I thought this take on the whole Torres thing was more balanced. Racist no, insensitive yes. Bill Plaschke seems like a self-righteous nanny the way he writes and the way he talks on Around the Horn. He's always on his moral high horse scolding people and I'm pretty sick of him.

I thought Torres made an unfortunate decision to do that but I don't think it's racist, either.

posted by insomnyuk at 05:24 PM on November 02

Reserving any judgment on the propriety of the costume, I'm not quite sure it can be properly termed blackface.

I think any use of makeup to impersonate a black person is generally considered blackface. Kind of a shame that Torres is getting hit for a pretty sweet Jay Z costume.

posted by rcade at 05:50 PM on November 02

To me, "blackface" is a term of art indicating the characaturing of African Americans a la the minstrel show of the past. And I know that Wickipedia isn't the world's greatest source, but the link I posted earlier supports that claim, as do many other available sources. I agree with you that in the popular lexicon, any impersonation is considered blackface. I'd also say that many words are misused in the popular lexicon, and often to make an exaggerated point. I guess my overall point is that there's blackface and there's "blackface," and they aren't necessarily equally disrespectful or racist. I think calling impersonating a black man "blackface" is unnecessarily inflammatory and skews the reality of what Torres did. That still doesn't make it right or smart or sensitive, but I think the argument should be based on what really happened.

posted by tahoemoj at 06:35 PM on November 02

I don't think it is blackface either. Reading the description of it as blackface, I was expecting them to be actually black with white lips. Instead they have darkened their skin to the shade that Jay-Z and Beyonce actually are. There is no caricature there, and no disrespect as far as I can see. I don't think this is offensive at all. I'm even going to disagree that it was insensitive because I just don't see any exaggeration here. They are really good and fair replicas of Jay and Beyonce.

posted by bperk at 06:54 PM on November 02

I think if Torres has dressed as "a black guy," then it's insensitive and more than a bit racist. But his costume was "Jay-Z." Last time I looked, Jay-Z is black, and Torres is not...how else can Torres look like him but to put on the makeup? And, if this is racist, then why isn't this?

posted by MeatSaber at 07:00 PM on November 02

There seems to be a generational bent to all of this. I don't think young people think about "blackface" the way we do. It's not a call-back to minstrel imagery to them.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 07:22 PM on November 02

1) it's not blackface, not close. Blackface was an extreme exaggeration of certain features and was done in a very demeaning way. Part of the vaudeville act was to make the black characters simpletons. Nothing in this story suggests that the Torrres were doing anything of the sort.

2) As others have said, since they are trying to look like specific people, how is it racist? If I want to go as Samuel L Jackson, I pretty much have to darken my skin, or the costume looks pretty lame.

3) Meatsaber's link is right on, if it's racist for white guys to dress up as black guys, then it's just as racist for black guys to try and look like white guys.

posted by dviking at 07:34 PM on November 02

Or! Or you could dress as somebody else for Hallowe'en. Perhaps next year, Mr. Torres could dress up as haute couture James Hetfield.

posted by NoMich at 08:30 PM on November 02

Its not racist. Its racist to say any cross racial portrayal. If you can't see the difference between "blackface" trying to have a legitimate portrayal something is wrong with you.

posted by Jackjeckyl at 08:39 PM on November 02

Its not racist. Its racist to say any cross racial portrayal. If you can't see the difference between "blackface" trying to have a legitimate portrayal something is wrong with you.

Then tell me what's wrong with me, please, because I couldn't even parse that sentence.

(hint: "between" requires two objects)

posted by lil_brown_bat at 09:17 PM on November 02

I couldn't even parse that sentence

Oh, thank God. I thought I'd had a stroke, and was only able to read half of what was written...

posted by MeatSaber at 09:39 PM on November 02

Yeah, possibly insensitive, but not racist. This writer sounds like a blue-nosed troll. And I'd even question the insensitive part: as bperk pointed out above, they weren't doing "black guy" or "ghetto crack dealer" or the like, which are racist/insensitive when you see things like frat parties with near-minstrel levels of makeup. They were dressing as two specific individuals. And in that regard, doing makeup to darken the skin is part of the costume. To me it's no different than dressing as Cher and putting on ungodly amounts of makeup.

rcade: Kind of a shame that Torres is getting hit for a pretty sweet Jay Z costume.
See, that was my first reaction when I opened the article and saw the pic: "Hey, he does look a lot like Jay-Z!".

posted by hincandenza at 10:24 PM on November 02

They look like Paulie D and Snooki to me !

posted by NEPABob at 11:16 PM on November 02

I am also firmly in the "not blackface" camp. Not sure the costume was a great idea, but Plaschke is a blowhard.

Comments on the L.A. Times article suggest overall sentiment consistent with the majority position in this thread.

posted by holden at 11:44 PM on November 02

I'll agree with the "Plaschke is wringing his hands too hard" thesis, but the problem is that we can't draw a bright line in the sand between "acceptable skin-darkening" and "blackface." It looks like Torres wasn't trying to make fun of black people (or really even of Jay-Z), but the next yahoo who does it but adds a "hilarious ghetto accent," then says, "Raffi Torres did it!" will kinda have a point.

No, it isn't a slippery slope that will inexorably lead to the repeal of the 13th Amendment, but it's a slope that's perilously close to a line that we don't need to give dumb people any reason to get near. Torres shouldn't be pilloried, but he (or his manager) should have the presence of mind to apologize and give the local NAACP a little news time and move on. As Herman Cain is learning, the unifying theme of American public life of the last forty years is It's not the crime, it's the coverup.

posted by Etrigan at 08:16 AM on November 03

How about that, facebook is (sort of) useful for something...

A friend posted about Dwayne Wade's Justin Timberlake costume along with the (unverified) claim that it was declared "best costume" by Yahoo sports just a day before the same site declared that Torres' getup was racist. I'm not sure I see why there's a difference between the two.

Doesn't Plaschke always wring his hands too hard?

posted by Bernreuther at 08:52 AM on November 03

Honestly, there are a couple of tellers at my local bank that slather on the fake tan tone lotion by the trowel and error method, and those ladies are darker than Torres.

Except they have more of an Area 51 orange glow to them. Actually, it comes in handy right around this time of year. Then, after the trick or treating is over, it goes back to being simply questionable.

I don't know where the line is on all this. There's folks like Robin Williams and Ben Affleck routinely doing black man imitations, etc.

And it's not like Eddie Murphy hadn't previously degraded hockey with his "what if they took all the brothers out of pro sports" routine.

As an older individual, what's really awkward for me to watch are the Rat Pack send-ups, where Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Sinatra are joking around about race and trying to make it seem all natural. Kind of a "we're so cool we can do this" vibe. Sort of like Hefner feeling entitled to crack grimace-inducing sex jokes.

My preference at the time was for the Dick Gregory comic approach. It ouched and tweaked, but also moved the conversation forward. Which needed to happen, as we were not that many years removed from Bull Connor.

posted by beaverboard at 10:24 AM on November 03

Doesn't Plaschke always wring his hands too hard?

Like he enjoys strangling puppies.

posted by grum@work at 10:51 AM on November 03

I can't stand to read or listen to Plaschke. So i didn't read the first article but the second was cool. And I am going to join the not raciest folks.

posted by Folkways at 11:01 AM on November 03

A friend posted about Dwayne Wade's Justin Timberlake costume along with the (unverified) claim that it was declared "best costume" by Yahoo sports just a day before the same site declared that Torres' getup was racist. I'm not sure I see why there's a difference between the two.

That's easy. History. There is no blackface equivalent or n-word equivalent for white people. Slavery, Jim Crow, this has all been a one-way street of oppression. And, we haven't and may never make it to the point where this is not a raw or sore point in our country's history.

As I said before, I don't think this is a problem, but that certainly isn't because some black people dress up as white people. The whole let's-switch-race-scenario is always a weak argument because it ignores context and history.

posted by bperk at 01:20 PM on November 03

Though it's true that the history of blackface makes it more problematic than whiteface, we don't have to be bound forever to the idea that whites wearing black makeup is always offensive. When there's no intent to demean or ridicule, we could put it in the same category as Wade's whiteface gag.

posted by rcade at 01:38 PM on November 03

Great costume as far as I am concerned. People with their political correctness, especially Plaschke, need to relax. The costume was funny. IT IS HALLOWEEN.

I really have to say that I am so tired of people feeling they have the right to tell me what I should or should not be offended by. I dont even understand why this is a story. Some writter thinks something is wromg then feels the need to tell my I am a bad person for not agreeing with him. Its 2011 and Jay-z isn't some poor black man being mocked with a "yes sa no sir" type of thing. It was a good costume. Mosyt of this generation would not even know what the "blackface " issue is.

posted by Debo270 at 01:42 PM on November 03

Though it's true that the history of blackface makes it more problematic than whiteface, we don't have to be bound forever to the idea that whites wearing black makeup is always offensive.

I'm surprised that it is. I remember that awful movie Soul Man when I was a kid. It was a dreadful movie and the actor (whoever he was) was a caricature most of the time, but I don't recall it being in the same category as blackface.

posted by bperk at 02:06 PM on November 03

Great costume as far as I am concerned. People with their political correctness, especially Plaschke, need to relax. The costume was funny. IT IS HALLOWEEN.

I, too, I am so tired of people feeling they have the right to tell me what I should or should not find offensive. It cuts both ways. ;)

posted by Hugh Janus at 02:13 PM on November 03

Etrigan:

I'll agree with the "Plaschke is wringing his hands too hard" thesis, but the problem is that we can't draw a bright line in the sand between "acceptable skin-darkening" and "blackface." It looks like Torres wasn't trying to make fun of black people (or really even of Jay-Z), but the next yahoo who does it but adds a "hilarious ghetto accent," then says, "Raffi Torres did it!" will kinda have a point.

That.

Debo270:

I really have to say that I am so tired of people feeling they have the right to tell me what I should or should not be offended by.

I think the shoe's on the other foot, Debo. It's not that anyone is telling you, "Yes, you must find this offensive." It's that you should, as a civilized and civil person, accept it when someone else does, even if you don't feel the same offense (and one would hope, act with the sort of consideration that you'd want to have extended to you if the situation were reversed).

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about how easily offended people are today, it seems to me like the thinnest skins belong to the people who can't stand to be told that they can't say/do anything they want, anywhere they want, without someone saying that they're offensive or in bad taste.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 02:15 PM on November 03

People with their political correctness, especially Plaschke, need to relax.

I'm not sure that Plaschke's opinion piece here is exactly political correctness so much as disengenuous, hyperbolic race baiting. I think it diminishes the importance of tolerance and understanding between races to just perjoritively call all efforts at sensitivity "political correctness." (I'm not implying that this is what you did, Debo. But it's been common practice to do it lately.) The flip side of that, and just as bad, is what Plaschke is doing; finding outrage and bad intent in a fairly innocent action which would only be found offensive by the most sensitive among us.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:17 PM on November 03

It's that you should, as a civilized and civil person, accept it when someone else does.

I am fine with that, but who was offended? People at the party? NO!! Jay-z? No. SOme reporter who saw a picture and decided to make it a story.? YES.. His opinion is as valuable as mine, I just dont have a newspaper to write for. I am aware that people cant just do "whatever they want" but unless someone there like maybe the host had a problem, why is this even a story??

posted by Debo270 at 02:23 PM on November 03

That this team is located in Phoenix, home of the infamous anti-immigration legislation, is just coincidental, isn't it?

Isn't this dig by Plaschke a pretty broad offensive stereotype on its own? Perhaps the hot-button controversy we should be talking about is that a prominent sports columnist thinks the people of Phoenix are a bunch of racists.

posted by rcade at 02:34 PM on November 03

That this team is located in Phoenix, home of the infamous anti-immigration legislation, is just coincidental, isn't it?

Considering he's only been a member of the Coyotes since July 1st, and he's probably lived in the city for less than 3 months, I don't think he'd really count as being "from Phoenix".

In that case, you have to assume there is some magical field that surrounds the city (or state of Arizona) that automatically turns people "racist".

posted by grum@work at 09:42 PM on November 03

Seeing as Torres is half-Mexican, shouldn't he be more nervous about living in Phoenix than what Blowhard Plaschke thinks of his Halloween costume?

posted by MeatSaber at 10:08 PM on November 03

I remember that awful movie Soul Man when I was a kid. It was a dreadful movie and the actor (whoever he was)

I remember that flick too and it was C. Thomas Howell

posted by BornIcon at 01:54 PM on November 04

You're not logged in. Please log in or register.