Good Idea? German Football Players Don Digital Blackface in Act of Solidarity

“Violence against refugees is pathetic. Emad and Amar, you are one of us just like everyone else and we're happy you are with us."

Deinster SV/Facebook

Is this ever a good idea? After two of their teammates were victimized by what the club called a racist attack, members of Deinster SV posted a photo showing their faces digitally altered to make them appear black skinned. The highly questionable bit of photoshopping actually came from a good place – their teammates are Sudanese refugees and the players wrote on their Facebook page:

“Violence against refugees is pathetic. Emad and Amar, you are one of us just like everyone else and we're happy you are with us."

In fairness to the players, their post has more than 17,000 responses on Facebook, almost all of which are positive. But a few commenters couldn’t help but note that even this well-intentioned gesture hits a little too close to home for some.

In comments translated by the BBC, coach Soenke Kreibich said: “We wanted to make a stand, amongst ourselves but also to the public. It should make it clear that Emad and Amar are an inherent part of our team, and not a minority on whom you can use violence to let off your personal frustration."

So-called Blackface gestures have a sad history in the U.S. Minstral shows made a cruel mockery of African-Americans and their culture through racist humor. Even someone with impeccable progressive credentials like actor Ted Danson, who was dating Whoopi Goldberg at the time, stepped in it when he tried to “humorously” mock the legacy of blackface during an early 1990’s roast.

And before actors and entertainers of African heritage were allowed to share the stage with their light-skinned colleagues, some actors would wear make-up to make them appear to belong to a different race or nationality. The indignity to non-white actors crossed nearly every nationality, including Latinos, Asians and virtually every culture imaginable.

Back in the 1950’s, John Wayne, aka, “The Duke” played Genghis Kahn. And children of the 80’s may remember the now cringe inducing film Soul Man, in which the white actor C. Thomas Howell plays a student who “becomes” black by taking tanning pills so he can get a scholarship to Harvard. And remember the loveable Ben Jabituva character of Indian descent from Short Circuit? Yeah, that’s actually the very white Fisher Stevens.

And lest anyone thinks this is an issue relegated to the dustbin of history, it was just in 2015 that Emma Stone played a woman of Asian and Hawaiian descent in the near universally panned film, Aloha – a full seven years after Robert Downey Jr. brilliantly tackled the idea of black face in the comedy Tropic Thunder.

So, we certainly feel you, players of Deinster SV. And as Deadspin wisely pointed out, Germany doesn’t have the same history of minstrel shows that the U.S. does. So, any outrage directed at those players is almost certainly misdirected. But it’s hard not to say, we get it, your heart is clearly in the right place. But your Photoshop choices may cause our cultural referees to pull out a red card in protest.

Julian Meehan

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