Harry Connick Jr. took a stand Wednesday night. While serving as a guest judge on Australian variety show "Hey Hey It's Saturday," the jazz musician reprimanded performers who donned blackface and Afro wigs while spoofing the Jackson Five.
Not only did Connick, a New Orleans native, declare that he wouldn't have appeared on the show had he known about the skit beforehand, he told host Daryl Somers, "I just want to say, on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart."
Now the Internet is buzzing with debates about the controversy. Was Connick just being too PC? Did the performers mean no harm? Do Australians simply not get that blackface is offensive because the history and makeup of the continent is so different from America's?
While these are all thought-provoking questions, I am more interested in the message that Connick sent by taking a stand than debating the offensiveness of blackface. (But, yes, I do consider it to be offensive). When Connick spoke out against the Jackson Jive skit, he sent the message that whites have a duty to stand up when racism is at hand. Usually, the opposite message is sent.
It's oft insinuated that racism is the problem of people of color, and, therefore, they alone have the burden of fighting it. In actuality, racism is a problem that affects everyone's lives. If certain segments of the population face educational, employment and healthcare barriers because of race, the whole of America suffers the consequences of it. Our workforce falls behind other globalized nations in ability. We foot the bills of people without health insurance who end up in the ER when an untreated medical condition takes its toll. This is why I applaud Harry Connick Jr. for saying that he spoke for his country when challenging the Jackson Jive skit. Hopefully, he will inspire not only other whites to speak out against racism but also blacks to speak out when they see racism targeted at Asians or Latinos to speak out when they see racism targeted at Middle Easterners and so forth.
Calling out someone for racist behavior can be awkward. You might be considered a buzz kill or someone who can't take a joke. Tensions may arise between you, your coworkers and family members, but, ultimately, it's worth it.
What do you think? Whose duty is it to fight racism?