Over the past three months, several incidents involving blackface, the use of dark theatrical make-up on a White person to portray an African-American, have popped up in the media. Images of performers in blackface are inevitably controversial, reminding us of America’s less racially tolerant history when minstrel shows and caricatured depictions of African-American people and culture were the norm in mainstream entertainment. So, why the resurgence in the age of Obama?
First was the October “Super Model” issue of Paris Vogue, which featured Steven Klein’s spread Dutch supermodel Lara Stone in blackface and ethnic inspired clothing. (Sidebar: no supermodels of color – Sessilee Lopez, Chanel Iman, Naomi Campbell – were featured in this issue.) Then Australian variety show “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” was slammed by on-air guest Harry Connick, Jr. for White contestants performing as the Jackson 5 in blackface. Most recently, Tyra Bank’s reality-show America’s Next Top Model raised some eyebrows for putting the models in a variety of blackface, reflecting different ethnicities.
Whether it’s done for fashion, for fun, or for profit, is it ever appropriate? Do our friends in other countries get a pass for not understanding the cultural stigma of blackface?