Posts Tagged ‘Blackface’

Blackface and the Black Bloc

May 24, 2009
Recycled from a post on the blog for my African-American History and Art class last fall:
During class on Thursday when we were talking about the history of white folks “blacking up” before protesting or rioting, I started thinking about how this history relates to the modern black bloc. For those who may not know, a black bloc is a protest tactic often used by anarchists and involves “masking up” and wearing identical clothing to facilitate property destruction and lawlessness. It first came to public attention in this country at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

I’ve been in a black bloc before, and there seem to be similarities between this tactic and the donning of blackface or other disguises in the past. The need to assume a different identity before taking part in transgressive behavior, the safety provided by blending into a monolithic body, the “masking” of the face, even the color choices.

One of the important critiques of the black bloc has been that it’s an almost entirely white tactic, and I think that’s a fair critique. Many of the participants lead fairly privileged lives, and are able to return to them afterward because of they have masked up. In the same sense that the colonists could take off their Indian garb after the Boston Tea Party, or 19th-century white rioters could take off their burnt cork, modern bloc-ers can remove their masks — their radical identities — and put them on the shelf until they are needed again.