34% think blackface OK for Halloween costumes: poll

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delivers a video address Feb. 1 about the racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. (Screenshot governor.virginia.gov)

WASHINGTON — A new poll found that 34 percent of Americans believe it is acceptable for a white person to darken their skin with make-up to appear as a person of a different race as part of a Halloween costume.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of respondents said wearing dark make-up for a Halloween costume is never acceptable for a white person, and 16 percent said it was rarely so.

The Pew Research Center poll released Monday comes amid renewed controversy surrounding “blackface,” a practice in which white people have historically imitated black people by donning dark make-up, often times punctuating it with exaggerated, racist features.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is facing calls for his resignation earlier this month over a page from his medical school’s 1984 yearbook depicting one person wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit and a second dressed in blackface.

After initially stating that he was one of the individuals in the photos, Northam backtracked the next day, claiming that he was not in the picture nor did he know how it appeared on his page.

While defending himself, Northam shared an incident from that year in which he wore shoe polish on his face to imitate Michael Jackson, an acknowledgement that opened a new avenue of criticism for the Democratic governor.

State Attorney General Mark Herring, who is third in the line of succession for the governorship, issued a statement last week apologizing for wearing blackface while at a University of Virginia party in 1980.

Among white respondents of the poll, using dark make-up for a Halloween costume imitating a member of another race was viewed as unacceptable by a 51-39 percent margin.

In contrast, black respondents said it was unacceptable by a 68-18 percent margin.

Hispanic respondents found it unacceptable via a 50-28 percent margin.

When viewed by party, 50 percent of those identified as Republicans or leaning Republican said dark-make up for Halloween costumes was generally acceptable, compared to 37 percent who said it was not.

Meanwhile, 68 percent of respondents who identified as Democrat or leaning toward Democrat said the same practice was unacceptable, and 21 percent said it was generally acceptable.

The poll was conducted among 5,599 respondents between Jan. 22-Feb. 5. There is a margin of error of +/- 1.7 percentage points.

In a Sunday interview, Northram raised eyebrows again when he referred to slaves who were brought to the U.S. from Africa as “indentured servants.”

“CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King, who was interviewing the governor, corrected him interjecting, “Also known as slavery.” Northram reiterated his refusal to step down, despite many calls for his resignation.

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