I’m just going to cut to the chase:
WHEN EXACTLY did blackface make a comeback?
Did a memo go out deeming this trendy, or “ironic”, as the kids say?
‘Cause I’m pretty sure it’s neither.
(If, for some strange reason, you have no idea what I’m referring to, then read this for a historical summary.)
Why am I getting my panties in a twist, you wonder?
Well, these three incidences within the last five weeks have a little something to do with it:
Australia: On October 7th, during a 20th anniversary special of the Australian program Hey Hey It’s Saturday, a group who’d performed as med students back in the day, decided to resurrect their skit parodying the Jackson 5, called the Jackson Jive. One of the judges on the show was American musician Harry Connick Jr.
And, well … here’s what happened:
The thing that KILLS me? It took them until the END of the show to acknowledge, um, wait, this is KIND of offensive to some people. SORRY.
Yes, they apologized. But still.
France: A week later (October 15), I stumbled across an online article about French Vogue. For its October issue, photographer Steven Klein shot a 14-page spread, with a number of pictures featuring a white model – named Lara Stone – completely covered in black paint. My understanding from what I read was that the photos were trying to push the visual envelope and appear “fresh” and “edgy”. Hmmm … I guess the dozens of people who wrote online articles shortly after … just … didn’t … get it.
A number of them also didn’t get why French Vogue didn’t think to hire black models for its shoot. Because they do exist.
And the kicker? this isn’t the first time the photographer has tried to make blackface “the new black”.
Now, it might be argued that racism isn’t as big a deal as in North America. But I’m willing to bet there are MANY non-white European immigrants who’d be ready to dispute that argument.
Toronto, this week: This story emerges about a group of University of Toronto students, who decided to dress up as members of the Jamaican bobsled team, from the Disney movie “Cool Runnings”, for Halloween.
Ingenious, right? But wait, it gets BETTER.
To make it more “authentic”, four of the five guys decided to cover their faces in brown makeup.
And to cap off their brillant costume idea, the organizers of the Halloween party they attended GAVE THEM A PRIZE (free admission to their next party – worth $5).
Torontoist caught wind of this and posted this story about them … which sparked arguments on both sides, as well as demands from the school’s black students’ association for an apology.
And in the end, these turkeys submitted an apology at a town hall held on Tuesday. At last check, the black students’ association has demanded an apology from the three colleges who organized the party.
In a TV news story I watched two nights ago, the reporter asked a member of the black students’ association to explain the problem with the costume.
She essentially explained that while it was one thing to poke fun at people, it’s “when you attach race to the buffoonery, that it becomes a problem.”
I agree with her.
But I have a bigger beef. Not with the the guys who wore the blackface …
But with the one guy – a Trinidadian student – who should have known better. But instead, by painting himself white (whiteface?) , he thought this somehow made it okay.
Of course, as he learned the hard way, it’s NOT okay.
Until now, I thought blackface was one of those things I’d only have to read about in history books and encyclopedias – not in the news.
If this is the post-racial world, then fly me outta here.
*Photo of U of T students courtesy of Torontoist.