FILE - In this May 19, 1980, photo, people walk past ruins in the Culmer section of Miami after rioting over the acquittal of four police officers charged with the 1979 beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black motorcyclist. When future Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and future Attorney General Mark Herring admitted dressing up in blackface in the 1980s racial stereotypes and racist imagery in popular culture seemed to be everywhere. There also was racial unrest and historic elections of black mayors. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Blackface, other insensitivities ran rampant in '80s culture

February 10, 2019 - 10:18 am

At the time Virginia's future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too — in the hit 1983 comedy "Trading Places."

Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s. That was also the decade that Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album broke sales records, college students protested against South African apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom "The Cosby Show" debuted.

But it would be another decade before multiculturalism started to change America's racial sensibilities.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. He says many shifts didn't occur until the 1990s, when black and Latino intellectuals and journalists achieved more prominent positions.