Consider ex-cop Bobby Berger of Baltimore, Maryland. If "cop" and "Baltimore" ring any bells, it might be because of the death of Freddie Gray allegedly at the hands of six policemen, an event that led to rioting, burning, and, in general, the kind of mayhem that makes for swell television on a spring afternoon. Just ask Jeff Zucker, who saw CNN's ratings skyrocket during that week. All that was missing was, well, a missing airliner to make the show complete.
But back to Bobby Berger. Berger wanted to raise funds to help the six cops' families, and thought that the best way was to put on a little concert. He's a singer, you see. And not just any singer. Berger, like many of us, enjoys the classic pop standards of the first half of the 20th century.
This wasn't going to be just another trip down nostalgia lane, though. Berger was going to do a tribute to the man once hailed as "The World's Greatest Entertainer" but whose reputation now hovers between forgotten and disdained: Al Jolson.
Specifically, Bobby Berger wanted to raise funds for six cops accused of murdering an innocent black man... by putting on a show in blackface.
Even my spellcheck can't believe I wrote that. There's no such word in 2015!
If you're wondering what the three black cops charged in the Freddie Gray case think of Berger's generosity, perhaps they accepted it in the spirit in which it was intended. The Baltimore Sun reports:
Berger said there is not "one iota of racial overtones" in his blackface performance and that thousands of African-Americans have seen his performances and enjoyed them.
|Bobby Berger out of uniform.|
This isn't Berger's first run-in with the taste squad. He was fired from the police force in 1981 for his blackface routines, only to win back his job with the help of the ACLU. He also received $108,000 for, among other things, "humiliation." He should have been humiliated just by going onstage like that.
Believe it or not, that wasn't the end of his police career:
After he rejoined the force in 1986, Berger said, he was given a desk but was denied a gun and a badge and given nothing to do. He sued again in 1989, and settled with the department for $200,000 more.
Who says show business doesn't pay?
|Berger would probably consider Jolson without |
make-up to be reverse-racism.
Jolson, it's said, wore blackface during the early part of his career because he was nervous about going onstage as himself. I have no idea what Bobby Berger's excuse is, but I bet he has not one iota of being nervous. He isn't smart enough. (Jolson himself stopped wearing blackface in Broadway shows around 1925.)
Now there's nothing wrong with being an Al Jolson fan. We had his records around the house when I was growing up, and I continue to enjoy his in-your-face style. Entertainers as diverse as Bing Crosby, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Simmons (of KISS), Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister), and David Lee Roth freely admit to have been influenced by Al Jolson.
But they didn't wear blackface! Especially to raise money for cops who allegedly killed a black guy in a city with black mayor. For a guy who's supposed to be a singer, Bobby Berger is awfully tone-deaf.