FAIRFAX STATION, Va. (BP) -- It has been said that a picture paints a thousand words. Pictures impact the soul and the mind. Logos, icons and insignias all communicate messages.
For example, most good and decent people are repulsed when they see the Nazi Swastika because it immediately reminds them of the horrible treatment and persecution of Jews; it reminds them of the attempted annihilation of a people; it reminds them of the raw brutality of evil.
Similarly, blackface is a picture that paints a thousand words. The message communicated by the donning of blackface ranges from cultural ignorance to overt racism.
Blackface appeared in America in minstrel shows during the mid to late 19th century. Black grease paint was used by white actors to portray black enslaved characters. These portrayals showed some of the worst stereotypes of African Americans, presenting them as subservient, dim-witted, ignorant and inferior.
Blackface reinforced the view of white superiority. It belittles and dehumanizes African Americans and make whites comfortable with the mistreatment of blacks socially, economically and politically. This attitude infiltrates the human psyche and reinforces racist attitudes prevalent in discrimination, unfair housing, prison sentencing, voting rights and segregation to name a few.
In Virginia where I pastor, the governor has a picture in his 1984 medical school yearbook of two people, one in blackface and one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Again, at a minimum, it is cultural ignorance or it could be overt blatant racism. Ultimately only God knows the heart.
As a Christian, I am commanded by God to forgive, and I do. I encourage others to forgive. Forgiveness doesn't mean that we forget, but we choose not to retaliate. Somedays it is hard to be a Christian. But, even as bad as this transgression is, I am still reminded of the great forgiveness that we experience in Jesus Christ. I think there will be a special crown in heaven for those of us who forgive others. But in the meantime, I hope we learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.
Marshal Ausberry is pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.