Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A 20-something Black and Puerto Rican college student walks into a Halloween party in the late 2000s. All of a sudden, he hears the voice of a close friend from across the room. He doesn’t see their face but sees they’re wearing normal clothes. The twenty-something Black and Puerto Rican college student walks up behind their friend and says “Who are you supposed to be?” The friend turns around—and reveals they’re wearing blackface. With a smile, the friend says to the 20-something Black and Puerto Rican college student, “I’m you.”
Unfortunately, the scenario I described is not an edgy opening bit for my future Netflix comedy special. It’s something that happened to me at a Halloween event some years ago. I hadn’t thought about that stomach-churning night until I saw a headline about 30 Rock a few weeks ago. Tina Fey, along with the show’s co-creator Robert Carlock, announced that she wanted to address the instances of blackface within the comedy series. She issued an apology and pledged to remove certain episodes from the series on various streaming platforms. Fey would make these scenes disappear.
As I watched other creators follow Fey’s lead, the memory of that Halloween night kept haunting me like a really, really offensive ghost. And I knew why. It’s because I know something that Fey and all those creators didn’t know about addressing the pain of blackface in your past:
Making it disappear doesn’t work.