Stop. Doing. Blackface.

I can’t believe it’s 2019, and this has to be said, but here it is: blackface is racist.  Stop doing blackface. For fuck’s sake….

Blackface started in the 1830s in New York when white performers in ‘minstrel shows’ performed as black characters; they would darken their face with burnt cork or shoe polish, wear tattered closed, and mock enslaved Africans from the south.  These performances would portray black people as lazy, cowardly, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexualized and prone to thievery.  By 1845, the trope had become so popular that an industry sprung up to supply music, makeup, costumes and music to be used by white performers mimicking black people.  From the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

Minstrelsy, comedic performances of “blackness” by whites in exaggerated costumes and make-up, cannot be separated fully from the racial derision and stereotyping at its core.  By distorting the features and culture of African Americans—including their looks, language, dance, deportment, and character—white Americans were able to codify whiteness across class and geopolitical lines as its antithesis.

 
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Halloween Isn’t an Excuse…

Every October, it seems like the lesson above (and the hurtful history behind the origins of blackface) are forgotten, and white people think they are ‘honouring’ black people/characters by donning blackface as part of their costume.  And by the morning of November 1st, they’re getting (justifiably) dragged for their poor choices.  In 2011, Paula Deen (yes, THAT Paula Deen)’s son appeared on a Halloween episode of his mother’s show dressed as Ricky Ricardo, if Ricky Ricardo had been from sub-Saharan Africa rather than Cuba; in 2013, Julianne Hough went out to a party as Crazy Eyes, from Orange is the New Black; and in 2017, Luanne de Lesseps donned the world biggest Afro wig and a fuck-ton of bronzer to go out at Diana Ross.  Just, don’t.  Fucking don’t.

Politicians are Trash, Too

What’s been all over the news in the last week are pictures of politicians surfacing in blackface.  Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s med school year book surfaced showing two men – one in blackface and the other in a Klan robe.  Northam wasn’t immediately sure which he was; then the story changed and neither were him, and he was sure of that because that Halloween he was dressed in blackface somewhere else.  According to Rhae Lynn Barnes of Princeton University, we should expect more to pop up in the future.  Blackface was (apparently is) a popular way for whites to show off their power, and were (are?) popular themed parties in elite circles, from which politicians typically come.  So, everyone better hold on to their hats, because we may be seeing a lot skeletons busting from closets in the coming months/years.

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Lack of Representation in Boardrooms

Where else has blackface popped up recently?  In fashion, of all places.  Goddamnit.  Before Christmas, Prada was marketing a like called “Pradamalia,” the mascot for which was a midnight-black monkey-like figure with giant red lips.  If you showed a child a picture from an early minstrel show performance, and asked them to draw the white performer, this mascot is what that kid would draw.  Prada acted shocked and confused (and defensive) before finally pulling the products.  Then, this week, Gucci put out a $900 turtle-neck sweater that is intended to be pulled up over the nose that included a cut-out for the wearer’s lips, which was ringed in red.  Now, I know they knew it would appeal to the blackface fans in the crowd, because only elite whites would be okay with paying $900 for a fucking sweater.  These products managed to go from designer to production to storefront (I’m assuming) because there is a shocking lack of black representation in management/board rooms in these companies, or if there is, these executives aren’t comfortable putting up a hand and saying “Uh, wait a minute, this isn’t good.”

So, in summary and as a reminder: blackface is fucking racist.  It has been for the better part of the last 200 years, and in 2019, we should all know better.

Have a good (and blackface-free) week everyone!

Elise

 

Sources:

Blackface: The Birth of An American Stereotype

10 Stars Whose Blackface Blunders Backfired, From Ted Danson to Kylie Jenner

Yes, politicians wore blackface. It used to be all-American ‘fun.’

How fashion houses that thrive on detail miss such critical social cues