But minstrelsy was a very long time ago now. Ever fewer people now living experienced it live. While we must never return to minstrel-style hijinks, does it really make sense, does it really serve a purpose, to ban anyone ever putting on brown makeup as part of mimicking a person of color regardless of his or her intent? Must we really have it that a white person dressing as a black person must do it with his or her own pale skin on view? The likely outcome will be a tacit societal rule that black Americans are the only people in the country who are never to be imitated even in praise except by other black people. And what purpose would that glum, peculiar stricture serve?
Yes, many say that intent doesn’t matter and that the key is how a message feels to the receiver. Okay—but there is an extent to which we control how we receive a message, and tarring Mark Herring as having channeled Al Jolson exhibits a certain hypersensitivity.