Nick Cannon has never had many defenders, and I don’t intend to be counted among them, not that I would matter enough to be noted, but I do want to say something about his whiteface shtick. For a lot of people, there is a false equivalency to whiteface and blackface, and that is what I would like to address. Though a white person might somehow be offended by this dumb joke, there is no historical basis for using whiteface to mock white people, but instead has been used by black actors in order to appear in roles as white characters. Blackface, on the other hand, was used for minstrel shows that did mock black people, and was even used in movies in order to avoid using black actors. The use of blackface is one of African-American exclusion and derogatory humor at their expense. In today’s context, I don’t believe most white people who don black face are intentionally trying to hurt black people, but it is insensitive and ignorant. The insensitivity is important, because almost everyone by now should understand how offensive blackface is, so by putting on the characteristic makeup, you are basically saying that the feelings of black people are secondary to your desire to make a crude, historically racist joke, which is just another symptom of how blacks are still marginalized in our society.
There is, of course, humor that can be milked from blackface and whiteface. A successful example is Dave Chappelle’s white TV anchor. A less successful one is White Chicks, depending on who you talk to. Perhaps by going even further, by cross dressing (and which happens considerably in black entertainment), it is hard to be offended by its obvious parody. What whiteface is notably free from is caricature of white features. This in part makes Robert Downey Jr.’s blackface more acceptable and able to be taken as a joke, but blackface was done with the clownish features in minstrel shows, which should be apparent in its extreme repugnance, and is what adds that connotation of ridicule that is not easy to wipe away, even from realistic portrayals. The only equivalent is clown whiteface, which is used by white people and which realistically cannot be used to offend white people, nor does it, nor importantly does it demean them or lessen hurt the image of white people. Black people have to worry about their image in this society, and think about how their actions reflect on how whites will continue to see them, something that white people do not have to think about.
Which brings me to the real point of what racism really is. The casual racism at the individual level does exist and absolutely causes harm to minorities of all stripe, but it is not the same as the institutional racism that blacks suffer from which inhibits their viability as a community. It is important to separate the two, because individualistic racism can go both ways, in that a black person could make a white person feel bad and vice versa (though if we are being honest, minorities will encounter it far more than whites will and is more pernicious due in part to the white majority). Institutional racism, however, is something that doesn’t affect whites (affirmative action does not hurt whites because they still attend college is far greater numbers that blacks and Hispanics, while it hurts Asians and Indian who would outcompete the white population based purely on academic standards), and is something that blacks cannot get away from, things like being targeted as criminals and drug users disproportionately by police, being convicted at greater rates than white people for the same crimes. Whites point out that they are often the victims of black violence, which is true, and it does happen more than white on black violence. But that is not the same as receiving a different form of justice under the same laws. Whites don’t need to protest for six weeks in order for the police to charge a man for shooting a young, unarmed teenager. Nor would they tolerate black men shooting unarmed teenagers and then claiming self-defense.
White people who are offended by what they perceive as whining and woe-is-me accounts of how hard it is to be black and how evil white people are are under no obligation to feel guilty, not that many do, nor is that the course of action we need. It is easy not to feel guilty for how blacks and other minorities have been treated by becoming part of the solution. And it’s very easy to do so. No need to treat people of another ethnicity differently; in fact, treat them just like a white person. That is to say, when they do something, don’t judge their action in light of their race. So if you see, say, an Indian driving fast in his car, don’t think “of course he drives recklessly, because they all drive like that in India,” or “of course the Asian woman got into an accident,” because you would not think “of course that white guy is racing around, because he thinks he’s Nascar.” Stereotypes hurt because you cease to think of people as individuals, and instead merely as products of their race. Once you stop thinking of people in light of their color, congrats, no reason to feel guilty for racism! (And also stop using racial slurs or believing any white supremacy nonsense). But that doesn’t excuse us from not working to ensure a society that is free of privilege based on color. Regardless of whether you like it or not, programs like affirmative action are not special privileges for black people, they are designed to combat the huge advantages that white people have in our society in order to ensure that blacks have an more equal opportunity to succeed, which in turn will alleviate the need for blacks to rely on the government for support (not that they get that much) as they become more self-sufficient as a whole (not if the corporations have anything to say about it). It is not a guilt-trip, sorry-we-enslaved-you-here-is-free-education-and-better-jobs-at-the-expense-of-white-people-forever.