Sometimes people pull off feats that lead you to wonder: Are they that oblivious? Or just plain dumb?
On April 30, members of the Santa Barbara County chapter of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB) will file into the Chumash Casino Resort for their 20th anniversary fundraiser where they’ll scarf on $115-a-plate dinners, enjoy the open bar, and laugh at the antics of a white man with his face painted black.
Welcoming impersonator Steve Bridges, the COLAB guests—all of whom, I have to believe, will assuredly be wealthy, Republican, and predominantly white—will have a chance to laugh at a man mocking Barack Obama. Bridges is well known for his impersonation of the first black American president, an act he pulls off beneath a hue of dark paint.
Or, put another way, a white man will paint his face black so he can poke fun at a black Democrat in front of a roomful of drunk, privileged, white Republicans who paid $115 to be there. And it’s at the Chumash Casino Resort. So it’s a roomful of white people laughing at a white man painted like a black man in the last piece of a formerly sprawling culture that was virtually wiped from existence by white people.
Being white is super keen.
Actually, I really want to throw in a few zingers to lighten the mood, but it kind of feels like firing off knock-knock jokes at a funeral.
This leaves a queasy feeling in my stomach. My gut tells me to be offended, and my gut is usually right. Other people tell me it’s a double standard, and Bridges isn’t really doing “blackface,” but more of a mocha face. It still doesn’t sit right with me.
I tried to play devil’s advocate, thinking, “Well, Saturday Night Live does this stuff all the time. Am I being overly sensitive?”
But when I described the context for Bridges’ act to other people, they looked at me like I just told them Santa Claus was murdered.
Besides, the reason COLAB got a white guy to paint his face black to make fun of Obama is because no black man would ever in his right mind dress up like the commander-in-chief and entertain a bunch of pissed-off drunken Republicans at their fundraiser dinner.
It has bad idea written all over it. While they’re at it, why not have Bridges impersonate Jesse Jackson or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Let’s go hog wild and slap a dress on him to do an impersonation of Susan B. Anthony for the local Stone Masons. If you’re going to push the limits, at least have some stones.
At the helm of this event is Andy Caldwell, the sanctimonious mustachioed Santa Maria radio host I’ll always remember as the man who wondered why no one gets upset when gay students bully straight kids. That, of course, was his thought after a gay Santa Barbara high school student was murdered for being gay. Also at the forefront of this group is a smarmy guy in a Santa-Barbara-County-taxpayer-funded suit by the name of Mike Brown—the retired Santa Barbara County executive officer who’s been showing up in public to whine about the exorbitant pay and benefits public employees receive. As a retired county CEO, Brown is entitled to some of those same fat pension checks—we don’t have the exact figures, but the man made $228,070 in a single year. You do the math on what that pension must look like. But hey, who’s counting?
In fact, on March 24, Brown’s going to be the featured speaker at COLAB SLO chapter’s second annual fundraiser, where, for $100 a plate, guests can suckle at the teat of a no-host bar and slurp fat from their plates of filet mignon. No one’s said whether Brown will paint his face.
I’m not one for political correctness—or even basic courtesy—but the stunts COLAB is pulling here make me want to bash my head into a wall to distract myself from the throbbing headache this news gave me.
If you’re white and have money, you don’t get to paint a white guy black and laugh at him. It’s a judgment call, and I’m making it. It’s a bit extreme, maybe, but I mean well. I’m really just trying to help COLAB avoid the embarrassment it should be in for.
It’s hypocritical, and I know it. If the NAACP had one of its members paint his face white so he could turn on the waterworks and blubber like John Boehner, I’d laugh until I wet myself. But that’s what centuries of getting kicked around by a bunch of self-righteous Anglos gets you—not much of a sacrifice, if you ask me.
Maybe the COLAB leadership doesn’t see this as mildly racist. Others might, especially in an area that’s so predominantly white. I’d bet $115 there will be few, if any, black people in the audience for this show. If you happen to be one of them, sorry. Maybe you can paint your face to blend in?
I guess I should be fair and point out that Bridges does other impersonations, too. He stood side by side with Dubya at a White House correspondents dinner. I pulled up the video on YouTube and perused the comments. Lo and behold, three comments down was one that read: “Obama is a lying shitbag muslim usurper that has no respect for the USA.”
I rest my case. ∆
I don’t even like it when mimes paint their faces. Help me out of my invisible box at firstname.lastname@example.org.