I often write pieces about white privilege, the difficulties of being Black in America, colorism and other relating topics. I write about these things because they provide a lens through which I can understand myself and others.
So imagine my disgust when I realized I would be writing about modern blackface.
We’re in 2018 and I have to write about why it’s wrong to do blackface. Because it is wrong. There is no scenario or reality in which blackface is okay. There is no society in which blackface is okay; just ask South Korea about it.
It was revealed on social media that some influencers were outed for performing blackface. White women had tanned themselves black, put faux dreads or braids in their hair, overlined and shoved filler into their lips to appear as and wear the Black woman. Their entire lives were sculpted around this masquerade; their popularity rose from their farce. One girl even went so far, in her pretending to be Korean, to edit her eyelids away.
Break out the search engines, kids. It’s time for a lesson.
Blackface describes the dress that white actors–specifically the Irish, y’all not innocent–would put on to perform in a minstrel show. Originally performed in the 1800s as a form of entertainment and reinforcement, the shows attracted large crowds in which many laughed and cheered on these white men pretending to be the nigger, the coon, the sambo. Minstrel shows and blackface combined reinforced the stereotypes of the Black person in America: lazy, ugly, stupid to name a few. Overpainted, bright red lips and white skin covered in burnt cork.
The Irish were the main performers of blackface because they were at the bottom of the white man totem pole. Anglo-Saxons (think the French, the British) were seen as the harbingers of culture. In an effort to be taken seriously as being “truly white,” the Irish covered their faces in burnt cork to remind the Anglo-Saxons that even though they were not considered as cultured, they would never be a nigger. The simplest of tricks, a racial peekaboo, was enough to convince Anglo-Saxon slave masters and other white men at the time. The stereotypes created by minstrel shows and blackface have persisted into today. Black America still suffers from internalized self-hate. But we have continued to put in the work to rise above it, to reclaim our identity and reclaim our beauty.
This is not up for debate. There is no way in which blackface can be acceptable. It exists as a form of mockery. It exists because white people, somehow, had to maintain a psychological control over the eventually freed Blacks and over society. If we were constantly fed the lie that we’re the sambo, the coon, the nigger, then we would inevitably come to believe it to be true.
Much like the persistence of the n-word, blackface has found a way to escape death and continue to live in the present. White people who take on dreads in hopes of differentiating themselves from mainstream whiteness, white women who take on certain physical racial markers in the name of beauty–these are forms in which blackface has modernized itself. I often see Instagram videos of this beauty vlogger’s lip swatches in the main feed. Her skills are indeed there, but she is known for the lip swatches. I find that fascinating because Black women with naturally full lips are not nearly as popular.
What’s also interesting whenever this debate comes up, which is usually centered on cultural appropriation, cultural assimilation is completely forgotten, at least by those who aren’t aware of its presence. I’ve heard several versions of the argument of white cultural appropriation: Black women with straight long wigs or weaves; Black women with light eyes or light hair. Somehow in a Black woman dying her hair blonde, she is appropriating whiteness, as if blonde hair is marginalized and abused by the Black community.
Of course, that’s not the case. What happens is assimilation, in which the majority group instills its values of beauty and domesticity onto the minority group. Skin-bleaching, hair dying, and other nasty forms of assimilation still persist across the globe to this day. The conversation about cultural appropriation versus assimilation is an unproductive one, because at the end of the day there is no white culture. “White” is neither a race nor is it an ethnic marker. Sure, one can be German or Polish or Italian, but white is a construct created in an era in which superiority had to be justified in some way, and thus the markers “white” and “black” were born.
Even though race is a social construct, it is deeply embedded in American society. Even though race is a social construct, do not think that it serves as an excuse for these white women who felt like being Black for a day. These topics always shift to blame Black women for the existence of these issues. The real question is why aren’t we bringing white women to the forefront of these conversations? Why aren’t we questioning them about why they’re darkening their skin beyond a natural tan, why they’re masquerading as someone they’re not? Why is it fashionable to look Black but out of style to actually be Black? Why is blackness accepted when it’s worn by a white woman?
Using my college-educated brain, my theory is that white women would rather be anything but white women. As we have seen in the voting patterns of white women, I theorize that said group is in a constant battle between their gender and their race, the race in which patriarchy lives and breathes. White supremacist values–and by this I am not strictly talking about hate groups, but rather the idea of white supremacy, the idea of whiteness being on top and holding all societal power–continue to thrive in modern society because of white women upholding it. It is easier to be white than it is to be anything else in this world, but one has hit the jackpot if one is a white man. As such, the question of one or the other for white women has been answered in choosing their whiteness over their femininity, but at the cost of still having said femininity ever present.
Black women have spent years upon years unlearning internalized self-hatred, but I am fairly certain white women have not. Sure, one can say that these influencers like the beauty of Black women, but that’s elementary at best. Black women have now entered an era and a space in which we can call that self-hatred out by name and explain why it exists within us. There is confidence in our racial identity, in our femininity, that perhaps white women have not experienced before, and the only way they know how is by literally looking like a Black woman.
Capitalizing off of Black features for monetary gain is disgusting, and the fact that these modern minstrel actresses receive money is beyond me. There are actual Black influencers, YouTubers, and other social media workers who are actually Black and who actually deserve the capital.
Once again, Black women have to do the hard work of telling white people to sit and calm down and white people, in this case white woman, are nowhere to be found. Instead they’re giving us crocodile tears and disappearing for a few weeks before coming back onto our timelines with more sponsored content.
Whenever y’all decide to stop acting foolish, send me an RSVP.