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Radio host Mark Larsen wears blackface after Obama win

5

November

Mark_larsen It didn’t take long for the first racially controversial routine to emerge in local media following the landmark success of Barack Obama’s election Tuesday as the nation’s first black president.

The moment came at 6 a.m. this morning, when WWBA-AM 820 morning man Mark Larsen, who is white, dressed in blackface makeup at the start of his show. Joined by the station’s news director Roger Schulman, Larsen joked about caking on the cosmetics, using a number of racially influenced comments in the process. Fans could watch the whole process go down via an in-studio Webcam. (See the bottom of this post for embedded video.)

“This gives me that Uncle Tom feel,” said Larsen, who also joked about changing his name to Marcus Washington Larsen. “Are you sure this comes off? Because I don’t feel like running for president.”

Click below to see the rest of the story and see YouTube video of the incident:

Before Tuesday’s election, Larsen talked about seeing a long line of black people waiting to vote at a Tampa Bay area polling place, saying they “looked like the line for takeout at Big Tim’s Barbecue” in St. Petersburg. And shortly after putting on the blackface makeup Wednesday, he told a caller he presumed to be black that “You love (America) because you have a man of color going to the White House. Before that, you probably were a malcontent."

Still, Larsen said he intended no racial insult. “I wasn’t making fun of black people,” he added, noting that he was fulfilling a bet he made last year that he would wear blackface if America elected a politician named Barack Hussein Obama.

Why choose to wear blackface? “If Dave Chappelle can wear whiteface and make fun of white people,Armisen_2 then I should be able to do this,” noted the host, who stressed his Libertarian political views, saying he would have voted for black Reublicans such as Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice. “The point I’m making is there’s a double standard here, and I don’t abide by the double standard.”

But there is a difference between wearing makeup to play a character of a different race -- as Fred Armisen (Obama on Saturday Night Live) and Robert Downey Jr. (playing a "method" actor in the Ben Stiller film Tropic Thunder) have done -– and donning the historic “blackface” makeup that has come to symbolize stereotypes of black people perpetuated in theater and film in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Blackface_2 Beginning in the early 1800s, white performers used blackface makeup, raggedy clothes and white-painted lips to play the character of the coon. This figure was the star of minstrel shows depicting black people as lazy, uneducated, superstitious, musical and childlike -- all the stereotypes black people continue to fight in American society.

Talk radio has taken some criticism during the presidential election for racially insensitive language -- from some hosts’ insistence that Obama supporters might riot on Election Day to conservative Rush Limbaugh’s parody song “Barack the Magic Negro,” based on a line from a Los Angeles Times column.

Still, Larsen insisted he was not trying to evoke long-held stereotypes or racist imagery in his on-air jokes. A broadcaster for nearly 30 years, he drew criticism during a stint on WFLA-AM (970) for a Wednesday “Humpday” news segment featuring bizarre stories lampooning gay people.

“What I did today was knuckleheaded and goofy, but ... it wasn’t a big deal to me,” Larsen said. “I want to make it abundantly clear, I’m not on any mission to disparage anyone. I just don’t play double standards.”

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[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:52pm]

    

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