Blackface is OK, according to 1 in 3 Americans

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A new poll found that roughly a third of Americans thinks it is acceptable to wear blackface.

The study released Monday by Pew Research, was carried out before recent revelations that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and State Attorney General Mark Herring (D) both wore blackface in the 1980s. The State’s Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R), also admitted being the editor of the Virginia Military Institute’s 1968 yearbook which was filled with racial slurs and photos of individuals in blackface.

According to the survey, 34 percent of Americans said blackface was “always or sometimes” acceptable to wear as part of a Halloween costume, compared to 53 percent who believed it was rarely or never acceptable.

There was, not surprisingly, significant variance in the responses by according to racial and ethnic group. Just 19 percent of African-Americans thought blackface is ever acceptable, compared to 39 percent of whites. For Hispanics, that number was 26 percent.

There were also significant differences by age and political affiliation. For respondents under the age of 30, only 26 percent said that blackface was ever acceptable. The number goes up to 39 percent for those between the ages of 30 and 49. It climbs to 45 percent for those between 50 and 64.

Among Republicans and those who lean Republican, 50 percent said blackface was always or sometimes acceptable, while just 21 percent of those leaning toward Democrats feel that way.

A full 68 percent of respondents who lean Democrat said blackface was either rarely (17 percent) or never (51 percent) acceptable, in comparison to just 37 percent of Republicans, 16 percent of whom responded “rarely acceptable” and 21 percent “never acceptable.”

There were some geographic differences in responses as well. Four out of ten respondents in the western United States thought blackface was never acceptable, as opposed to 30 percent in the Midwest. In total the percentage of Midwesterners and Southerners who thought blackface was “always/sometimes” acceptable was nearly ten percentage points higher than those in the West and North-east.

The survey was carried out between January 22nd and February 5th by a random sampling of 5,599 respondents, in addition to oversamples from 530 black and 508 Hispanic respondents. The poll’s margin of error is 1.7 percentage points.

The poll was wrapping up just as news of the Virginia blackface scandal was beginning to emerge. On February 1, the conservative website Big League Politics published a photo of Ralph Northam yearbook page after completing his medical studies at the Virginia Military Institute. The page showed one person in blackface and another dressed as a member of the KKK.

Almost immediately Northam began facing calls to resign from Democratic Presidential hopefuls like Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Later that day, Northam apologized for the remarks, saying “this behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career.” A day later however Northam changed his story at a press conference, claiming that he was not either of the individuals in the photo.

The scandal then started to cascade. Last Wednesday, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that he worse blackface to a party “when [he] was a 19 year old undergraduate].”

The next day the Virginia-Pilot reported that Majority Leader Tommy Norment had edited a 1968 version of the Virginia Military Institute yearbook filled with blackface photos and racial slurs.

That same day, a woman came forward to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax (D), who would take over should Northam resign, of sexual assault during the 2004 Democratic Convention.

The next day, a second woman came forward accusing Fairfax of sexual assault in 2000 when he was a student at Duke University. Fairfax, who is now also facing calls to resign, dismissed the claim as “unsubstantiated.”


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