It’s become real clear to me, that White people love themselves some blackface. In fact, it’s horrifying but probably fair to say that we’re having a blackface moment and I’m not exactly confident that it’s going away anytime soon.
In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen numerous incidents of blackface use, from a photo surfacing last Friday from the 1984 yearbook page of Virginia governor Ralph Northam dressed in blackface next to a man in Ku Klux Klan attire to Gucci having to pull an $890 item they described as a Balaclava knit sweater from their Fall/Winter 2018 collection that very obviously depicted blackface. The sweater knitted neck covering which is worn pulled halfway over a person’s face is black with a large mouth opening outlined in red. Folks on Twitter attacked the brand for their racist imagery and insensitivity. The brand not only pulled the item but issued an apology shortly after.
So @gucci puts out a sweater that looks like blackface……
On Black History Month….
And then issues an apology because they didn't know that blackface images are racist.
— Tariq Nasheed 🇺🇸 (@tariqnasheed) February 7, 2019
A few days later, Katy Perry found herself in a ton of controversy over a pair of Katy Perry Collections shoes. Folks on Twitter called out the Rue Face Slip-On Loafers and the Ora Face Block Heel Sandals for depicting blackface and they have since been pulled from stores.
Perry released an apology statement claiming that the shoes were initially intended to replicate art not depict blackface.
“The Rue and The Ora were part of a collection that was released last summer in nine different color ways (black, blue, gold, graphite, lead, nude, pink, red, silver) and envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism,” Perry said in her statement. “I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict images reminiscent of blackface. Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from katyperrycollections.com.”
Last week, photos of Vogue editor Grace Coddington’s home went viral. The pictures featured “Mammy” jars sitting on a shelf in her kitchen. The fact that the publication was willing to overlook the jaws and casually publish the photos was especially triggering. It pissed people off — to say the least.
This past holiday season, Prada pulled their “Pradamilia” figurines from stores which were monkey-shaped toys with brown faces and large red lips that many felt evoked blackface imagery. I’ve read countless stories of White people painting their faces brown or black for Halloween and I cringed last spring when I heard about an elementary school that had children perform a poem in honor of Black History Month in blackface masks. What in the world were they even thinking? See, that’s the whole thing. When it comes to blackface, thinking seems to be the last thing anyone is doing.
To say these folks, brands, or designers had ill intentions is honestly besides the point. I’d like to think if they knew these things were racist or had ill intentions they wouldn’t have been so dumbfounded about it all. But the truth is, ill-intended or not it’s still racist and incredibly harmful. What’s more alarming to me is that it doesn’t seem to be going away. Really, why hasn’t this gone away? Part of the problem is that not all White people actually think it’s bad. That’s right, in 2019 quite a number of White people still don’t understand the negative connotations associated with blackface.
In fact, according to a poll from Pew Research, two-thirds of White Americans believe it’s totally acceptable for a White person to use makeup to darken their skin to appear to be a Brown or Black person for Halloween. While most understand that it’s absolutely not. This speaks volume though.
The fact that there are people roaming this earth that still don’t understand that painting their skin darker to look like a Brown or Black person is wrong is disgusting and mind-blowing to me. Even if someone doesn’t know the history of blackface — which at this point they really should — the fact that they can’t see the harm in using someone’s skin color as a prop or a costume is highly problematic and on a number of levels. It also shows how they view Brown and Black bodies.
What’s particularly frightening to me is not just the use of blackface alone but how much some White people really seem to get a kick out of it — they legit love it. Not only does that reveal ignorance but it also proves that some people really do find the idea of demonizing the Black community and making them seem less human as entertaining — which is exactly what blackface was initially intended to do. White actors in the mid and late 1800s would paint their faces black and use makeup to make their lips look large and red in efforts to mock Black slaves. The shows were called minstrel shows and they were intended to degrade Black people and perpetuate negative stereotypes. The history of blackface is racist and painful and seeing blackface used in modern times is just as racist and painful. In fact, I’d question that it’s worse because people should know better now. Participating in blackface perpetuates the message that Black people are less than human. How is that acceptable? How is that not racist? How can anyone consider that to be less than cruel?
If the bud of your joke or the cause of your amusement discriminates or mocks an entire group of people, common sense should tell you it’s wrong. And if you lack common sense altogether — which you’d have to in order to think blackface is okay — just be prepared to have Twitter go in on your ignorant ass.