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Racism in the 21st century



Just when did 2009 turn into 1909?

On the heels of the "Jackson Jive's" recent performance in blackface on Australia's Hey Hey It's Saturday TV variety show, French Vogue had the nerve to run an issue featuring models in blackface. I know the lead-time on magazines is months in advance, but this was a bad idea in the 19th century, so why replicate it now?

Apparently French Vogue was just being "creative." I can't imagine not being able to think of anything else to do other than to dress up models in blackface, which is a creative expression of ... what exactly? The only thing worse than five untalented doctors giving Australia a black eye under the guise of "comedy" is dressing up pre-pubescent/starving women in blackface under the guise of "creativity."

Memo to morons who still think mocking and denigrating black folks is funny: It's possible to be creative and comedic without using blackface. Memo to black comedians who like to perform in "whiteface": That isn't funny either. Like blackface, it's tired and played out and completely unnecessary if indeed you have an ounce of comedic talent. For the record, I have a sense of humor -- just not when it comes to that.

Speaking of comedy, Louisiana judge Keith Bardwell refused to marry an interracial couple because, basically, he doesn't believe that those marriages last. Really. I guess this clown hasn't read a paper, study or anything on marriage in this country: 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. According to an article in USA Today, 7 percent of America's 59 million couples who married in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2 percent in 1970. Interracial couples only make up 7 percent of all married couples so how can they make up the majority of divorces? It's statistically impossible, which means that Judge Bardwell, who maintains that he is not a racist, is indeed an idiot, a bigot and a racist. Is there any wonder why a 4-year-old boy would ask President Barack Obama during his visit to Louisiana why people hate him so much?

What's so interesting about these incidents is that people are extremely free with their racism. The election of the nation's first black president, the product of an interracial union, was supposed to symbolize that America has moved past its troubled beginnings as it relates to race relations. To some extent this is true, but on the other hand, people whom I call "holdovers" (folks who refuse to let go of outdated, hateful, mean-spirited dominant ideologies) feel the need to hold on as tight as possible to their "Tom Foolery" and scream at the top of their lungs, "You lie!" I mean ... they spew the most heinous and venomous comments that do nothing to add value to society, but in fact, tear it apart. "I don't marry interracial couples" is one of those things -- a throwback to when our great nation was wrong about a lot of things, including race.

In 1883, the Supreme Court declared that states could ban mixed marriages. How? Because it found that banning interracial marriages did not break the constitutional requirement to treat everybody equally, because white people and black people were punished in equal measure for breaking the miscegenation laws. I'm not making this up. That ruling stood until the 1967 Loving case. Louisiana did not repeal its anti-miscegenation laws until it was forced to by the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967.

Fast-forward to 2009, or rewind back to 1883 or forward to 1909 ... I'm confused. It's all looking the same and that's scaring me worse than any horror film out in the theaters. Forget a Nightmare on Elm Street sequel -- instead of Freddy Krueger with a gloved arm with razors, it's a white man with a gavel doing work on behalf of the Devil. Unfortunately this is not fantasy, but the reality of race in America. In spite of the fact that we are all related, especially if you are white or African-American with Southern roots, like Barnett, people insist that we should stay separate when we never were. There's a reason that my family reunion looks like a United Nations meeting. I suspect that if Judge Bardwell traced his roots, he'd find Kunta Kinte and the Ishak (Atakapa) tribe somewhere in the mix. Whites and blacks have been mixing for centuries and will continue to do so. Since it obviously has to be said, race matters, but it shouldn't.

All I know is that people are clinging to divisive behavior based on archaic ideas about race. Interracial marriages and biracial (multiracial) children are here to stay. Please come into the 21st century so that children don't have to continue to wonder aloud why there is so much hate in the world.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and writes the blog Tune N (, which examines popular culture through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality.

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