Racism sucks: Where does RVA go after blackface?

In the wake of Bopst-gate, what are our next steps? Tiffany Jana assures us that there ARE next steps, and it’s up to us to take them.

If you’re at all involved in Richmond’s social media, you’ve probably heard about Bopst-gate and the unfortunate blackface costume choice that a local music booker wore to work. The incident sparked much debate about the implications of blackface in 2016, the wearer’s intentions, his moral character, and whether or not the community should accept his multiple apologies.

I’ve seen everything being thrown around, from white privilege to reverse racism. Social media has been the vehicle of much distress for the offender, and I can’t even say people are hiding behind screens as they are lashing out under their real profile names and letting Bopst and everyone else know exactly where they think he and his supporters should go.

Some are mad at the perpetrator. Others are mad at people of color and the sympathizers who are calling Bopst out and choosing not to forgive him…yet.

But racism is nothing new in Richmond. Racism is in the bones of this city, but a great many people—myself among them—work diligently to purge this great city of its present and historical ills.

So the damage is done. Blackface was donned, yet again, in 2016. (Incidentally, we warn people about this every Halloween and for the life of us cannot understand why anyone still has not received the memo.)

In my opinion, the most heinous crimes included Balliceaux’s failure to hold an employee accountable for a brand-scourging, customer-alienating choice (they should have sent him home immediately) as well as people standing up and making light of Bopst’s reprehensible behavior.

Why do I name these as the biggest offenders and not the original sin?

Because people do racist shit all the time. Ask any person of color whether they have witnessed or heard anything racist lately, then sit down for awhile as they laugh at you and spill a laundry list of offenses. Don’t get me wrong, what Bopst did was a hot freaking mess. He resurrected a stereotype that was invented to mock, demean, and humiliate African Americans. Blackface helped cement the notion that black people are less than human, and this dehumanization helped non-black people feel OK about doing horrible things to my people without remorse. So yeah, what Chris Bopst did was really bad.

But here’s where 2016 comes in. We are supposed to know better, and therefore do better. Gone are the days where laughing at your racist uncle’s jokes is OK. If you let your friends say racist, sexist crap and you laugh or remain silent–YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Yes, I just yelled at the likes of Balliceaux and anyone else who still thinks it’s OK to remain willfully complicit in the degradation of others. If you saw Bopst that night and you laughed or said nothing, shame on you.

So really, where do we go from here?

We have to talk about this stuff openly. I know it’s hard—conversations like those are probably among the most challenging discussions you will ever have. But if you ever want to see a day where Richmond isn’t divided by class and race (and yes, it still is–concentrated poverty, segregated schools, and neighborhoods), then you must get over your fear of being uncomfortable and find some folks you trust to have safe conversations with.

Oh, you don’t know anyone different from you with whom you trust enough to share your deepest bias and questions? There’s the problem. If we continue to surround ourselves with people just like us, we will always be part of the problem. That’s why I just wrote a book on this very topic.

Think of a book like mine as a practical guide for all the well-meaning people who actually want to identify their biases and do something about them. And I suggest you look into doing just that. I offered this same advice to an RVA entrepreneur who stuck his nose into Bopst-gate and ended up causing irreparable damage to his brand. The name of the company sounds a lot like Swirly Turd Biscuit Symphony (STBS), and the owner feels like total crap for his misstep. He spoke out of turn, by most accounts seems genuinely remorseful, and will hopefully seek out some brutally honest discussions (and read my book).

However, like Bopst, STBS must apologize to RVA and the people he offended. Then the words of atonement must be followed with sincere and meaningful action. That’s where my opinion diverges from many of the people on social media in the Bopst debacle. Interestingly, it’s mostly white people who insist that everyone, including blacks, need to instantly forgive Bopst.

I was pleased to see the number of people (black, white, and others) who recognized that it’s not their place to force people to forgive. And while we appreciate the votes of confidence regarding Bopst’s character and past choices, that does not absolve his racist behavior. That said, everyone deserves forgiveness, but Bopst needs to show up in RVA and use his privilege and influence to further the conversation and action against racism and bias. That’s what true atonement looks like. If he does that, my forgiveness will be earned.

Imagine if every hate crime could be amended with a simple apology? Wouldn’t that be nice and easy? Sure. But is that really a meaningful display of contrition? I think not.

We all need to get out of our own way if we are going to live together as allies and work together to improve the state of our city. Old racist and sexist patterns do not have to play out generation after generation. You can break the cycle now. If each of us commits to owning our part in supporting or undermining systemic racism, we will one day be able to tell our kids that racism was a thing we obliterated back in the old days, and that the idea of favoring one skin color over another was absurd as the idea that the world is flat.

Will you do your part? Will you identify your bias and work to address it? Will you use your personal or professional power and privilege to destroy systemic bias wherever you see it? (No disruption of bias is too small.) Will you stop being complicit when you hear racist, sexist, homophobic banter? These are your responsibilities to yourself, your neighbors, the next generations, and your city.

Tiffany Jana co-owns TMI Consulting, is a really dang pleasant person to know, and just published a book on all this stuff. It’s called Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships across Differences. You can get it via that link or head over to Chop Suey! OR, listen to Tiffany read it via Audible.com. Whichever medium you choose, we suggest you look there for guidance on how to eliminate your socio-cultural blindspots. We’re getting our copies like, right now.

Author: Tiffany Jana

Co-Founder & CEO TMI Consulting, social entrepreneur, diversity & inclusion innovator, mom, author, international public speaker, champion of the people.

3 thoughts on “Racism sucks: Where does RVA go after blackface?”

  1. Time for the lazy white boy from Fairfax burbs to take his rascist ignorant Gwar out tune moronic ass back to whiteyville

  2. I enjoyed your article I have one point to add. Forgiveness is not up to others obviously . I believe that people have to come to it i their own time . What concern me is the agressive and destructive response to this act . Bopst did something I agree is wrong. Maybe Balliceaux did too, I think that’s worth discussing . But before this had been discussed mob reaction has ruled what the penalty should be :loss of job , loss of business , destruction of brands and livliehoods in a sweeping and decisive manner. I suppose this can be seen as a by any means necessary response . But in my experience the only ones hurt by these kinds of responses are those who care. Bopst doesn’t want to be a racist, Balliceaux doesn’t want to be, Early Bird same. A true racist , bigot, someone who hates has a belief that will not be shaken by such activism. Bopst is being destroyed because he is not a racist and honestly does care that he caused this pain to others. So, do accidental expressions of insensitivity and privilege maybe even a form of casual unwitting racial bias deserve the same response as willing, conscious and intentional actions which are the result of actual conscious racist beliefs ? Are we going to use the same blunt instrument of social media shaming to go after everyone and destroy anyone guilty of such a misstep regardless of the degree of the infraction? This incident has taught me as a white man who has lived in the city for 46 years and attended RPS and worked to improve relationships between black and white people that I better not engage in this dialogue as a white man unless I agree totally with the passions of the offended lest I lose my job and place in the community . I surely do not want to risk that therefore I am scared out of my wits to take part in any dialogue at all. Which is why I leave this comment anonymously .

  3. Ms. Jana,

    I am an acquaintance of Chris, and so surely I hold some bias here, but I agree with most of what you are saying. I am from the mid-west, and was raised around a bunch of shallow minded folks who thoughtlessly threw around racial comments on a regular basis. I am white, if you hadn’t figured that out. Anyway, I left St. Louis never to return (I do visit), because I was so disgusted by some of my families behavior, and though you love someone, my level of tolerance can only stand so much. I will get your book at Chop Suey Books to maybe help me deal with my family and others I encounter.

    I wish everyone reporting on Bopst would comment on his body of work to date and some of his writings on his old Bopst Show episodes; Worked at a black AM radio station for 6 years; has brought to Richmond artist of all backgrounds from virtually every continent; the crowds at Balliceaux are probably the most diverse in the city; he named his daughter after Nina Simone because he idolizes Nina Simone and all that she represents. And I could go on.

    Is it good that this happened to further racial discussions in and around Richmond? YES. Is Chris Bopst deserving of a one sided public trial? I don’t think so, mainly because it was not committed with malice.

    He has stated that he wore the makeup to make fun of racism, but it was just a horrible idea. He is a human, and humans make mistakes. This is the wrong human to be persecuted to this level. I have hope that he will work to make amends for this action, but in the meantime, please remember that what he created and worked and sacrificed for truly made Richmond and beyond a better place for everyone.

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