Understanding the racist history of blackface

The blackface scandal that began with a photo in Virginia Governor Ralph Northam's medical school yearbook is highlighting the long and racist history of blackface in America.

Blackface has never been a compliment to black people - its very creation is a caricature of the worst stereotypes.

RELATED: Northam denies being in racist yearbook photo, says he will not be resigning as governor

Beginning in the 1830s, blackface was a staple of minstrel shows in America - a popular form of entertainment.

The roles were caricatures of black people as slaves, lazy, intellectually inferior or hyper-sexualized.

RELATED: Blackface photo in Gov. Northam's yearbook reopens long history of bigotry in medicine

Historically it's been used to convey all of the worst possible stereotypes and so to use it for whatever reason is wrong," said Howard University political scientist and professor Dr. Michael Fauntroy.

Fauntroy says the racist history of blackface is often not fully understood by those who choose to wear it.

RELATED: Controversial photos in yearbooks from Gov. Northam's med school prompt external investigation

But blackface has gotten a lot of attention over the last few months.

First - after former Today show host Megyn Kelly's statement that she though blackface was okay when she was growing up.

RELATED: Northam's med school investigating racist photos in yearbooks

Then as videos and pictures of college students wearing blackface popped up - leading universities to condemn the images and take disciplinary action.

Blackface has entered the national conversation once again - this time after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted that they wore blackface decades ago.

RELATED: Northam's future in office remains uncertain, continues to rebuff calls for resignation

As the political fallout continues, Fauntroy says there's a blunt message in it for anyone considering wearing blackface.

"The message to young people is don't be racist. OK. That's the message, and secondarily dressing up in Klan outfits or dressing up in blackface is not cool and it's too much history behind it and even if you don't understand the history I'm here to tell you there's history there that needs to be respected and acknowledged and do everybody a favor and just don't do it," Fauntroy said.

RELATED: Backlash against Virginia Gov. continues despite denial of racist photo

Fauntroy says Attorney General Mark Herring's admission of wearing blackface may actually be a good thing for Governor Northam - allowing him to justify holding on to power.