As anyone, with the apparent exception of Bobby Berger, would have predicted, the plan to include a blackface performance at a fundraiser for the six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray was met with swift and decisive outrage. The NAACP was against it. The police union was against it. The venue canceled the event.
As for Berger, 77, a former cop who got into a heap of trouble with the Baltimore Police Department way back in the ’80s for his Al Jolson routine, he doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. He gave an ultra-chill interview to Ebony before the story really exploded, in which he tried to explain that his routine isn’t “racial.” He went on to list the names of several black celebrities who he says have cheered his act.
Now, post-cancellation, he appears as oblivious as ever as to why his act is offensive. “The thought of it once against becoming controversial is beyond me,” Berger told WJZ. He said that the fundraiser, blackface and all, may “very possibly” go on once he secures a new venue.
Setting aside the issues of whether Al Jolson’s songs are “mean-spirited” and whether blackface is inherently offensive (setting them aside for just a moment), my question is this? Once you’ve discovered that your singing act is perceived as offensive by the overwhelming majority of people and only generates additional bad press for people you are trying to help, why insist that you do it anyway?
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