Decades ago when I was studying French literature of... I forget what century, but one of the ones where you could go to jail for writing "smut" -- there was a loophole where you could write entire novels about people sexing it up and being "immoral" as long as, by the end of the book, everyone either died of a sexually transmitted disease or was marched off to jail or in some other way was made to suffer terribly for their "sins." Many of these books became "classics" of French literature that are taught in universities, and let me tell you-- it made me really wish I hadn't become a French major. I'm not anti-smut, but those books were terrible.
I don't think sex censorship and blackface are the same thing, but I do think that blackface jokes that are done under cover of "isn't this character terrible-- tee hee, so funny!" is kind of a similar hedge. It's only funny if you don't think that blackface is a big deal in the first place. Making it into a joke kind of implies that yeah, we know it bothers you, but we are going to do it anyway because we don't understand or respect your feelings, and regardless of what anyone else may say, we think it isn't THAT bad, and we want to find a way around the prohibition.
Like those French novels, it posits that as long as you punish the person you can get away with it, because you found the loophole. Doing this communicates that you personally aren't bothered by it enough to take the prohibition seriously, and that you really want to talk about how you feel as the person who wants to use blackface, rather than that you are listening to or caring about how blackface impacts others.
I think it's genuinely true that the people making some or possibly all of the shows that are being discussed here did not understand or take seriously the degree of pain and offense attached to blackface, and felt comfortable subverting the prohibition rather than being respectful of it without pushback. It wasn't done out of a desire to cause hurt, but it was hurtful because it was done to minimize the feelings of those who are hurt by it, and to re-center the issue on the feelings of the people who've been asked not to do it.
It's not that they WANTED to cause pain (I hope), but that they didn't take seriously that it would, and felt comfortable ignoring how it would likely feel to others.
I'm sure all of us have been guilty of that mistake, if not with blackface then with some other issue, but I think it's great that it's being looked at again, and a greater understanding and respect is being followed by making changes.
It's sad that some otherwise good things get lost in the shuffle (like a suicide prevention message), but that's weighed against the hurt caused by NOT pulling them, and is really just all the more reason to avoid this kind of mistake in the first place, and seek advice if you're not sure-- before you film it. I'm really curious if the writers' rooms and network overseers for those shows had diverse representation on board, or how those things got past them if they did. SO MANY things get axed in edit because they're considered "controversial" and networks don't want to offend. It's interesting what widely acknowledged to be offensive things DO get to air. Apparently who is potentially offended is a bigger factor than just whether someone might be offended.
And I do hope that the conversations that come out of pulling various episodes out of rotation will lead to more awareness and fewer missteps going forward.
When we read those French novels, we didn't read them because they were wonderful. We read them to understand the times, and to discuss the issues they raised. But the place for that would be a seminar, and not a randomly encountered episode in syndication.