why “blackface” is a problem,… but only black?

When kids dress up for Halloween, sure, they’ll paint their faces to become an animal, wear a mask, or add appendages like tails or antennae that they don’t have.  They’re dressing like other species.  When kids dress up to be human-like characters, say from a movie or cartoon, or even a celebrity, they adopt the clothes and accessories necessary to be recognized as that character or person.  They are already a human being, so they can alter things that are socially acceptable to alter: clothing, hairstyle/wigs, jewelry, etc.

NOT their racial identity.

I’m sure I don’t have to go through the history of the United States to explain why the color of someone’s skin has been used to single them out or embrace them with open arms as an equal.  Racial tension still exists in this country and throughout the world.  Furthermore, light-skinned Americans are shoveling over dollars to go to tanning beds or laying out on beaches weekly to risk cancer for darker skin.  On the other side of the world, like in India, women are paying to bleach their skin to a Caucasian white.  Skin color still equates to social status, no matter how jumbled the message is getting.

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Above: In the United States, L’Oreal sells the tan Caucasian look; in India, the same company pushes the appeal for Asian women to look “white”.

Skin tones have historically been a way to segregate people, and, as a result, they can be ways to unite people who struggle the same struggles.  However, civilized society should strive to move away from these racial stereotypes and identifiers and instead focus on the individual and his/her identity.  Identity shouldn’t come with a Behr’s color palette.

Ever since I was a little girl, I used to argue with older generations that skin color wasn’t black, white, yellow, brown, and red (if those are even accurate groupings anyway).  I would always argue that skin color is a spectrum, and even certain colors don’t mix the same way those on an artist’s palette mix. Genetics can come with surprises.  But when we see the world in very restrictive color palettes and racial labels, ones that don’t take into account ethnicity, social-economic statuses, citizenship, and actual culture, we are once again emphasizing an outdated viewpoint on identity.

So, back to Halloween: The skin color of a Trick-or-Treater shouldn’t have to be an identifier for what “costume” he or she is choosing.  Part of that is because race is not a costume.  Also, at what point do we decide “Oh, that character is like, half a shade darker than me – I need make-up!”  Sure, Avatar Blue is one thing because that’s not “human”.  But should a person have to paint his or herself black to be Obama?  On the flip-side, should a white person feel he or she can’t dress as Obama because he or she isn’t black?  (HELLO, Obama is ALSO white…Why can’t we see that part of him too?)  And, finally, does that mean a woman cannot dress as a Obama without a sex change? ————– No, I don’t think it’s any different.  “Race” is something you can’t change, something society (include police forces) currently identifies by a visual assessment.  Likewise, sex is predominantly identified biologically.

So about Blackface.

What is it?  Well, what it sounds like.  “Blackface” is when a non-black/lighter-skinned person paints his or herself dark (and possibly with stereotypical “black features” like large red or pink lips) to pretend to be…”black”.  There is no concrete date for the origin of “blackface”, but it was notorious for its use in theater starting in the 19th century.  Ah, yes, the Jim Crow era, the times when blacks were gaining more and more rights (albeit snail-slow) as human beings.  Slavery, lynching, segregation…and, in theater, blacks were the center stage.  Except, not actual blacks.

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Blackface in theater was an excellent way for white people to mock blacks for black stereotypes.  Imagine all the dehumanizing things white society could have possibly done or said to black people during these eras and you can imagine the foul things that showed up in white-ruled comedy.  However, to make this work effortlessly, white people were hired to paint themselves as black people.  Otherwise, how could we identify the “less-than-human” as he or she fell victim to the splendid white cracks at these oppressed racial categories?

Knowing the history of blackface and the atrocities that accompanied it will probably help you understand why it was once a horrible practice.  However, the foundation that “blackface” was built on still exists.  Just because we would like to view our society as “free” does not mean “blackface” is a freedom of speech.  It is founded in literally the same segregation principles as in decades and centuries before, and it is a means of segregation.  While wearing “blackface”, or being racist, or demonstrating in the KKK may not be illegal, because of freedom of speech, that does not mean they belong in civilized society.

Can you understand why dress up as a shot Trayvon Martin – in blackface – is so many levels of wrong, racist, and disrespectful?  Because this totally happened:

martin

Maybe, just MAYBE if racial segregation by skin color hadn’t been a historical and systematic way of trampling other people to get ahead, then just MAYBE “blackface” and whatever-else-face wouldn’t be wrong.  But skin color has been and continues to be too connected to social status, so painting your face as another “race” IS wrong.

EXCEPT.

Except
except
except
except
except
except….

If you’re a sports fan.  #TELLMEWHY

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Or if you don’t even have that excuse, but call yourself a…”hipster”???  (Below: seen at Bonaroo)

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“Red” stands for blood.  “Red” stands for the “pelts” of slaughtered indigenous peoples, peoples who were labeled as merely “Indian”, and “pelts” that gave white colonists cash rewards from the government.

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This is wrong because it is REDFACE.  This is even more wrong because  of its historical context (“pelts” = GENOCIDE).

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Tell me why this is “socially acceptable”?

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Do me a favor, and if you ever see, call it out.  The only way it should be “tolerated” (I say that LOOSELY) is if the person flat out admits to being an informed racist…

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