I’m black. I’m also a little Mexican and Creole. Basically I’m a minority melting pot with the blood of several ethnic groups running rampant through my veins, and I’ve got to say, that’s something I’m damn proud of. I’m also a lover of artistic avenues, particularly fashion, it’s something I’ve grown up admiring, and in my current status as a grown woman I’ve come to almost love the good the bad and the ugly. Almost, that is. I know that just like beauty, fashion is in the eye of it’s beholder, it’s something that subjective to the viewer and can be interpreted in several ways, because at the core fashion is just another form of self expression. It’s human nature to have differences in opinions, especially when it comes to art, but there are just some things that just shouldn’t rear their ugly faces in any avenue, especially in fashion. By some things I mean blackface. There I said it.
For those of you unaware of what exactly blackface is, I’ll give you a quick history lesson. Blackface is a theatrical makeup regime which in the past has allowed lighter pigmented individuals (*cough Caucasian cough*) to plaster themselves with brown or black makeup, thus creating the illusion that they’re African American. The trend became popular in the early part of the 19th century, becoming a important performance tradition for almost 100 years and overflowing into other parts of the world, most notably Britain where the tradition lasted longer than it did here.
Since its inception into culture, blackface has become synonymous with racism, helping to create stereotypes about African American’s and their culture. White blackface performers in the past have used burnt cork, greasepaint, or shoe polish to blacken their skin, while adding exaggerated lip makeup to create fuller lips, wearing nappy wigs, gloves, tailcoats, and ragged clothing to complete their transformation to a African American. The stick of blackface characters and their minstrel shows has played a significant role in cementing racist imagery, attitudes, and perceptions about one group of people all over the world.
My frustration with blackface in the fashion industry began with a little magazine called French Vogue, and size 6 model by the name of Lara Stone. About a month ago, after browsing my good ol’ Google reader, a headline from my favorite smart ass fashion blog “The Cut” jumped out and open hand slapped me in my face. The headline “French Vogue Shoots Lara Stone in Blackface” was right there in big bold bright letters leering at me, right along side Lara and all her curvy goodness covered in chocolate brown makeup. Angered, and annoyed, I left my racially pissed fingerprint on Twitter, and my personal blog, thinking this was just a one time occurrence, something we’d have to see in a magazine every 5 years, and shaking my head profoundly at French Vogue for their shenanigans (Carine how could you?!). To my disbelief and utter surprise, the blackface trend wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.
Sasha Pivovarova was placed in blackface in the November issue of V Magazine, while Tyra Banks decided to shoot her America’s Next Top Model contestants in the minstrel makeup routine. Not to mention the countless articles I’ve read in the past week alone about a NFL cheerleader who thought dressing as Lil’ Gremlin Wayne was a great idea, and the college students facing controversy for donning blackface during Halloween weekend just to get a few laughs. Although the surface of my frustration in this growing trend is with the fashion magazines, editors, and television producers that allowed this to happen, the core of the problem lies in this very important question: Why is this still Ok?
This is NOT the 19th century, it’s the 21st first of all. In terms of racial harmony, this world has come so far from where it once was; where our black, white, yellow, red, and brown grandparents, and sometimes even our parents, were subjected to stereotypes, segregation and discrimination. Why in the hell would we want to go back there. Blackface of any race is racially insensitive, it tears the scabs off century old scars, revealing wounds that still run deep in the African American community.
What adds fuel to my fire, is the fact that French Vogue, V Magazine, and Tyra Banks couldn’t take a moment to choose one of the many beautiful models that don’t require black makeup. You know, because their ALREADY BLACK. There are so many African American, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Sudanese, and even Brazilian models in the industry that constantly get the short end of the modeling stick. Ever wonder how they feel seeing Lara Stone’s creamy skin being transformed to black molasses? The insensitivity of the fashion industry’s depiction and nonchalant attitude towards an activity that is flat out racist is appalling. It makes me wonder if things like this are done, not for the sake of art, but for a reaction. If a reaction is what they want. A reactions what they’ll get. Blackface is wack, and any magazine, television show, or person that engages in it is wack as hell as well. EPIC FAIL!
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