Patterico's Pontifications


When Facts Don’t Matter: Writer Equates Soot-Covered Coal Miners With Blackface

Filed under: General — Dana @ 12:25 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Rashaad Thomas, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, poet and essayist has opined that a photograph hanging in a Phoenix restaurant that captures coal miners with their soot-blackened faces sharing a beer after work made him feel threatened:

… Then a photograph caught my attention.

Friends said, “It’s coal miners at a pub after work.” It was a photograph of coal miners with blackened faces. I asked a Latinx and white woman for their opinion. They said it looked like coal miners at a pub after work. Then they stepped back, frowned and said it’s men in blackface.

I asked the waitress to speak with a manager. Instead, I spoke with a white restaurant owner. I explained to him why the photograph was offensive. Evidently, someone else had made a similar comment about the photograph before.

Yet, the photograph remained on the wall. He said he would talk to the other owners and get back to me. While leaving, I asked him had he spoke with the other owners. He had not spoken with them, but mentioned Google said it’s coal miners after work.

Thomas freely acknowledges that the facts don’t matter, it is his emotional response that does:

Fact: The photograph shows coal miners’ faces covered in soot. The context of the photograph is not the issue.

And yet:

Art can be a trickster. People view artwork once and subsequently see something different.

Viewers cannot determine the intention of an artist’s work. Art also exposes society’s blind spots. Blackface is only a glimpse of a larger issue. The larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices in Phoenix.

Frequently, I enter art galleries and I am not represented in the art, which leads to uneducated curation for exhibitions. While shopping I am ignored because it is assumed I unable to purchase anything, or I am followed by a security guard because it is assumed that I am a threat to the store.

Each assumption is based on a stereotype. Blackface caricatures stereotypes of black people.

At the downtown Phoenix restaurant, my concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored.

A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, “Whites Only.” It says people like me are not welcome.

Except this isn’t an artist’s rendering in the sense that it wasn’t created from someone’s imagination, nor was it the result of individuals specifically adopting blackface for a photograph. This is a very real capture of very real people after a very real day at work. Because the photograph does not represent in any way, shape or form the racist intent of historical “blackface,” to use it as a weapon of complaint about feeling threatened and inadequately represented is disingenuous. The photograph of the coal miners covered in soot is not the same as a group of white people dressed up in “blackface” seeking to denigrate a specific group of marginalized people. Thomas sorely hurts his cause, and the cause of everyone interested in seeing equal treatment and respect to individuals of every race and color by lumping coal miners covered in black soot in the same basket with racist bigots in blackface. It’s ridiculous to claim that hard working men in the photograph threaten anyone. Perhaps if Thomas immersed himself in the history of coal mining, particularly during the time period when the photograph was taken, he might temper his claims.

Interestingly, as the photograph in question appears on the cover of a book titled The Home Front 1914 – 1918 How Britain Survived The Great War by Ian Beckett, and Wales Online describes the photograph as colliers in a public house in Cwmbach, Aberdare in about 1910:


Concerning the very dangerous work of coal miners during the war, that anyone was able to live to tell, let alone have a beer at the end of the day was awfully lucky:

In the First World War trenches cleaved Europe from the North Sea to Switzerland. While the battlefield above ground was static, a secret subterranean war raged underground.

The British Army began to form specialist army units of trained tunnellers in 1915, initially recruiting men from poor coal mining communities in Britain. Their job was to create a labyrinth of long underground tunnels that extended under enemy lines and could be packed with explosives, and to dig ‘camouflets’, smaller mines used to collapse enemy tunnels. They were also tasked with building extensive networks of tunnels behind Allied lines, allowing for undetected movement of men and supplies.

Added to the hazards of early 20th century mining, the miners were exposed to the particular horrors of underground warfare. These included enemy explosives, asphyxiation, trench foot, drowning, entombment, cold, cramp and the threat of unearthing German soldiers digging in the other direction and having to fight hand-to-hand to stay alive. Mining casualties were high; one tunnelling company had 16 killed, 48 sent to hospital and 86 minor cases treated at the shaft head in a six-week period.

Tunnellers worked by candlelight and operated in silence to avoid detection. Allied miners used the ‘clay kicking method,’ a technique borrowed from sewer, road and railway works in England. In each team there would be a ‘kicker’ who would lie on his back on a wooden cross and use his legs to work a finely sharpened spade known as a ‘grafting tool’ into the rock face. A ‘bagger’ would then fill sandbags with soil, and a ‘trammer’ would transport the debris out of the gallery on small rubber-tyred trolleys on rails. He would return with a trolley stacked with timber. The wood was for the walls, which would be erected without nails or screws in order to maintain silence; miners relied on the pressure of the swelling clay to hold it in place.

Facts must be taken into consideration when responding to situations. If facts are willingly ignored, our responses are subjective as we become little more than non-reasoning, knee-jerk emotional responders in spite of being otherwise informed by very tangible evidence. Because we willingly choose to see a situation through only an emotional lens, does not make that reality. Thomas certainly has the right to his views, and to express them publicly. I applaud anyone who has the wherewithal and follow through to do so. But in this particular instance, his efforts to make use one innocuous photograph to further a complaint about the much broader issue of unequal representation of blacks is misguided.

(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)


53 Responses to “When Facts Don’t Matter: Writer Equates Soot-Covered Coal Miners With Blackface”

  1. Obviously people are going to react to situations differently, of course, and yet it seems that to disregard facts to further our cause – no matter how justified – is damaging it in the end.

    Dana (023079)

  2. there’s something seriously messed up with the sheer number of fascist idiots being churned out by the sleazy corrupt and incompetent us military

    this isn’t happening by accident

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  3. Way too many people appear to get their sense of self-worth from finding any possible opportunity to denounce other people as moral cretins, and especially from claiming to be a victim of someone else’s alleged moral turpitude.

    Radegunda (694c3c)

  4. I guess Ben Stiller’s career is soon to be over for his coal-face scene in “Zoolander.”

    Mitch (341ca0)

  5. That’s a Blessed Ale 3rd man from left is drinking!

    urbanleftbehind (4d3585)

  6. Good grief, we’ve gone past peak stupid, and we haven’t finished the month yet.

    narciso (d1f714)

  7. When the Latina and the white woman said it was miners, the cynical side of me said that’s cause they know people that work. And maybe the Latina from Phoenix knows a certain kind of local modern day tunneler.

    urbanleftbehind (4d3585)

  8. speaking of questionable facts the texass secretary of state has called voter register office across texass to warn them not to remove or arrest the 58.000 voters who the secretary of state said had voted illegally because the date they used was “flawed” and that they maybe citizens and the they and the state of texass could be held liable if taken off voter roles and could be charged with false arrest as several arrest have proved they were citizens and released from custody.

    lany (928049)

  9. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t try to find out what it was, but I imagined what it was and the product of my imagination offended me.

    John B Boddie (66f464)

  10. Context (winning the future) does it work.

    Narciso (9e309a)

  11. Btw its godfrey elfwick who noticed this firsr.

    Narciso (9e309a)

  12. I’d say he should learn to code, but I doubt he’s qualified for an activity that requires reasoning and logic.

    Paul Montagu (27e440)

  13. Now, now Dana…

    For your consideration, facts are not always the most important.

    If someone comes up to you and puts a gun in your face, and it scares you, you have a right to be offended. You have that right even when the gun is fake, or loaded or not. The perp. can’t simply retort “That was a fake gun! You’re ignoring the facts!”

    Maybe it’s an extreme example, but it does prove that perception is what matters in some circumstances.

    Tillman (61f3c8)

  14. black & white photography is racist

    mg (8cbc69)

  15. 15, if only I knew how to code and respond with a James Baker III gif

    urbanleftbehind (4d3585)

  16. James baker is on team Tehran and team Ankara, note the 38 north link above,

    narciso (d1f714)

  17. these would be the “intel chiefs” what have presided over the us military’s decades-long humiliation in afghanistan?

    they’re not to be taken seriously

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  18. james baker’s also a slavering jew-hater on par with obama and bob corker

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  19. the question is maybe more why would the republic print something so dopey

    it seems like Gannett’s slip-sloppering down the same slope what took Newsweek down into the sewer

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  20. When evidence is ignored…
    “An Epoch Times report confirmed information first revealed by the Daily Caller and Fox News that the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) told the “FBI in 2015 that a forensic review of Hillary Clinton’s emails unearthed anomalies in the metadata of the messages. The evidence in the metadata suggested that a copy of every email Hillary Clinton sent during her tenure as the secretary of state was forwarded to a foreign third party.” Evidence proved the third party was China.”

    Colonel Haiku (61b436)

  21. if it’s not nailed down the dirty chinesers gonna steal it

    this is their nature Mr. Colonel

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  22. >the larger issue is the lack of representation of marginalized people and their voices

    coal miners are marginalized people. their voices are very rarely represented.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  23. if ralph northam were a blood feasting predator, would he behave any differently,

    as for baker, that was an apocryphal statement as opposed to the official position of
    ‘the other broke girl’ who has bff’s among 23 us senators,

    narciso (d1f714)

  24. virginia values aren’t the same as american values they’re mostly federal employees there

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  25. it was the blood price, demanded for the last election,

    narciso (d1f714)

  26. Well, William Blake caused quite a stir when he self-published “The Little Black Boy” in Songs of Innocence.

    It’s actually a poem about chimney sweeps.

    Gawain's Ghost (b25cd1)

  27. New Witness Emerges In Mueller-Linked Scooter Libby Set-Up

    Eye Doctor (984b6e)

  28. you must feed skydragons as well as moloch

    narciso (d1f714)

  29. good point Mr. aphrael that’s a good (and poignant) observe

    in Chicago where i live it’s fashionable to poop on coal miners

    but coal built this town it was coal what kept the depredations of icy winter at bay while this plucky little city struggled its way free of the grasping onion muck

    it was coal what forged the steel what built this city high and forever vanquished the feverish threat of ravenous flame

    it was coal what powered the industry and innovation and commerce and produced an unprecedented congery of productive endeavor within the confines of a single city

    and it was coal what powered the ships what shared this bounty with the whirl

    and now like an insolent fippy-fap chicago wants to wipe these coal miners off its shoe like they were something foul they chanced to step in

    This is not right. It’s just not right.

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  30. Rashaad Thomas? Never heard of her.

    nk (dbc370)

  31. “Modern journalism is all about deciding which facts the public shouldn’t know because they might reflect badly on Democrats.”

    —- Jim Treacher

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  32. take the post’s hot take, that willie brown’s sponsorship of harris, is nongermane,

    narciso (d1f714)

  33. Although photography is indeed, an ‘art’ the image in question obviously recorded a refreshingly celebratory gathering rather than created to express artistic impression [though an argument could be made a century later that displaying it as ‘art’- as a decoration- enhances the motif of the eatery in question.]

    “Restaurant” is pretty vague, too; was it a regional or nationally known chain eatery or a local Arizona watering hole?

    And, of course, it is fair to ask– why display an image of coal-dusted Welsh miners in Phoenix and not Arizona silver and gold miners from America’s Old West? Is the owner of Welsh heritage? One could reasonably question [or interpret] displaying an image of blacken Welsh miners in Arizona as a subtle slap. Is a vintage, cigar store indian on display, too? Would an image of starving slave laborers assembling V-2 rockets be appropriate wall art at the Mickey Dee’s in the Smithsonian’s NASM and be interpreted as sending a message– or just part of the museum motif to put you off your Big Mac?

    Having family from Wales who not only did this kind of hard work a century ago – [the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley made my Welsh great uncle weep and still brings tear to my eye] the depiction is not unfamiliar to me and certainly not offensive.

    OTOH, have you ever taken a good look at one of America’s most famous icons: a black-and-white-faced pipsqueak called Mickey Mouse? A disease-carrying rat runs the happiest place on Earth.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  34. Funny but it makes a good point…

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  35. > and not Arizona silver and gold miners from America’s Old West?

    I don’t know about AZ, but in CA, a *lot* of the second generation miners (not the grizzled prospectors, but the people who actually settled down and did hard rock mining) were of welsh extraction.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  36. @happyfeet, one of the big problems in american politics today is that the coal miners think that the people who want a better life for the hotel maids don’t care about them, and vice-versa.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  37. the obvious solution would be to just instate a central committee that could both approve restaurant art and proactively make additions and substitutions

    this would be similar to how Meghan McCain’s wretched cowardpig daddy approached the vexing problem of political speech

    so we have a framework already established we could build off of

    we only lack the will

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  38. the coal miners think that the people who want a better life for the hotel maids don’t care about them, and vice-versa

    but this is true

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  39. and how is that not actually true, when they vote for candidates, who want to wipe out the coal miner’s occupation, in true underwear gnome fashion,

    narciso (d1f714)

  40. @41. But the image isn’t of Arizona miners which would make sense for a Phoenix ‘restaurant.’ — it’s of Welsh coal miners in a UK pub from the WW1 era. There’s not enough info bout the context- if the ‘restaurant’ is a ‘chain’ eatery [national or regional] this decoration [note the frame] may just be part of the motif and decor package. If it’s not, then more background info is required.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  41. Death spiral for BuzzFeed — Kyle Smith, NR

    a lil chutz and also some pah for you there

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  42. Speaking of making sense…..

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
    Why don’t people ever tell billionaires who want to run for President that they need to “work their way up” or that “maybe they should start with city council first”?
    __ _

    Dana Loesch
    Schultz grew up in the projects, was the first of his family to go to college, and turned a tiny coffeeshop into a multi-billion dollar company. How much more should he “work his way up?”

    __ _

    harkin (97db13)

  43. Lol requiring context of restaurant decor.

    harkin (97db13)

  44. Ridiculous isn’t it, of course the daughter of a successful architect, is not self aware.

    Narciso (6d30d1)

  45. Hey Schultz, investigation of everything you’ve ever said or done plus maybe even some fevered dreams from the next version of CB-Ford comin’ up!

    harkin (97db13)

  46. Also – my two cents, just from what I’ve heard him say so far he could very well take away more Trump votes than whoever wins the Redistributionist Clown Car Gong Show.

    harkin (97db13)

  47. This so-called essayist, Rashaad (Thomas?). all he does is talk about race.  Racist makes himself out to be such a victim!. WTF? Hard working american coal miners, now this!

    Bobbylynn (8a67d3)

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