Blacking-up is racist. Fact.

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When Halloween comes around and you inevitably dress up as a cat, do you feel the need to only eat Whiskas’ tinned cat food, drink from a bowl and poo in a bush? No, you don’t, because that would be a little too far and fancy dress is only pretend. You don’t need to be that cat-like; the pointy ears and whiskers make it pretty obvious. So why do people feel the need to change their skin colour and black-up, in order to dress up as a famous Black person, the “Cool Runnings” bobsled team or a generic Jamaican? Rastafarian costumes are already an inherently tasteless costume, before the blackface, but cultural appropriation is a conversation for another time.

Using the excuse “it’s only to look more like *insert Black celebrity/ethnic minority* to make the costume better” is absolutely ridiculous. You know who you won’t look like when you cover your body in black face paint? A Black person, because Black people’s skin colour is, in fact, brown (yes some people may have a very dark brown pigment, but no one’s skin demonstrates the complete absorption of light) and your non-black facial features will not magically morph into the features of a different ethnic group after you dowse yourself in Snazaroo face-paint. For the love of god, do not take that as a suggestion to use brown face-paint either…

The Tab recently published an article about Reading Agricultural students going out in blackface, turbans and North Korean soldier costumes. It bores me to death to still be seeing people my age and of a similar educated level failing completely at understanding racial issues. In my first year of university, I was shocked and appalled to see people blacking-up for “Jungle” fancy dress themes – apparently it is no longer enough just to dress up as a lion or a zebra and no night out is complete without a heavy dose of ethnic banter.

But what about White Chicks?” I hear you say. Please direct yourself to the hundreds of explanations on the internet about what is and what isn’t racism, if this is your argument. “Whiteface” is not a thing, I’m afraid, neither is “reverse racism” against White people in the Western world – feel free to disagree with me, but this is actual, solid fact. Blackface is a problem because of the connotations of hundreds of years of racism Black people have encountered; it is propagating symbols of oppression and it is never going to be funny.

It’s political correctness gone mad!” exclaim bemused privileged students everywhere. What that is, is a very obvious attempt at justifying your insulting actions. Yes, we do live in a world that is rather on edge about social issues, but there are some very blatantly offensive things that you should not do and, like casually shouting “Heil Hitler” or walking around stretching your eyes out to look “chinesey”, blacking-up is one of them. It really is as simple as that. Realising blackface is wrong is not political correctness gone mad, it is a matter of being a decent person. You wouldn’t call someone slapping a 97 year-old woman in the face “political correctness gone mad”, would you? I don’t know, maybe you would, I cannot help you if that’s the case.

Blackface makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Seeing an offensive costume on a night out will do nothing but put me in a bad mood and ruin my night, as no matter how many pints I down, I cannot drink away the complete existence of ignorant troglodytes. It is demoralising and very awkward. Why would you want to go out, in public, wearing something that is most likely going to offend someone? It is the equivalent of going to the pub stinking of piss and instead of coming across as a nice, clean, normal human-being, you disgust everyone around you, because you stink of piss. People are not going to appreciate it, it will not be funny and you will look (or smell in this case) like an absolute tool.

I am baffled by how many people still just do not understand why blacking-up is offensive. In 2015. People still do not get it. It is as if these people have never heard of slavery, oppression, minstrels, gollywogs, civil rights or RACISM. Black people have been mocked (yes, they are still mocked) for their non-white features for years – for their funny big lips, flat noses, dark skin, nappy-hair… All the things that make us stand out. When you black-up, regardless of whether or not you mean to, what you are saying is “this costume is going to be funny because these people look funny.” You are putting yourself in the same league as 19th century minstrel shows, whose entire concept was amusement from the nature of asinine, funny Black people. In a not-so-distant past, Black people were believed to be an inferior race to White people altogether, with less developed brains and just general all-rounded inadequacy. Blacking-up now sends you right back to that age and guess what happens when you mimic the actions of previous racists? You look like a racist.

One commenter on the aforementioned Tab article wrote “I’m a frequent cosplayer and if I were to dress as the Hulk (for example) I’d paint myself green. Why is it such a problem to paint yourself the colour of someone in a costume?” It is a problem because the Hulk is not a real person and therefore never experienced enslavement or racial prejudice. Furthermore, likening an ethnic group to a hideous green monster is also incredibly offensive, so snaps to this gal for saying all the wrong things.

For those of you who think this is an overreaction – do not tell me what I should and should not find offensive. If I have been hurt by YOUR actions, I am not the problem, you are. If you fail to see why blackface might be offensive, educate yourself and find some goddamn empathy. Additionally, look at yourself – your background, your privileges, your experiences – before you try to tell someone what is and what is not offensive. It is impossible to fully understand the plights of people who are not like you, no one is suggesting you can, but what you should do is shut the hell up and think about it for a minute.

This needs to be put very plainly, because there are still some people who struggle with this concept: blacking-up is racist and will always be racist. If you try to justify it, you will come across as uneducated, uncaring and racist. Moreover, if you need black face-paint to make your costume convincing, you probably have a pretty poor costume in the first place.

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About Author

Jessica Brough is the Editor of bite (2015/16). She writes about music and popular culture.

1 Comment

  1. ‘People still do not get it. It is as if these people have never heard of slavery, oppression, minstrels, gollywogs, civil rights or RACISM.’
    I think a lot of the problem is that although everyone has heard of slavery, oppression and of course RACISM; because who in 2015 when bombarded with articles like this 24/7 hasn’t, not knowing what minstrels and gollywogs are/were is the bigger issue. A simple google search asking why black face is wrong will take you straight to minstrels, but people are too busy/ignorant to bother spending 10 minutes learning about it. I’ll admit I never understood why it was wrong because I was not informed, that was until I spent some time looking in to it and realising that it wasn’t.
    Also what I think is worth mentioning is that minstrel shows haven’t been around for about 200 years, this combined with Great Britain being one of the most progressive countries with regards to equal rights and ethnic diversity have, I believe, resulted in younger generations not really ‘recognising’ these types of issues.

    ‘I’m afraid, neither is “reverse racism” against White people in the Western world’ – And this attitude, unfortunately, just propagates the problem. You are right, ‘reverse racism’ is not a thing, in fact it’s just called plain ‘racism’. It’s perfectly possible to be racist toward white people just as it is with any other ethnic group. It’s just that generally speaking white people have no history of being oppressed (for there colour) and are therefore not sensitive to the issue.

    I absolutely agree with you that blackface is wrong because of a variety of reasons with the main one being it’s link to minstrels. And that is the crux of the problem, our education system has failed our youth in teaching people these issues. Do we rely on teachers in the classroom to educate children on, what could be seen primarily as an ‘american issue’ and therefore controversial to include in schools, or do we rely on every parent being pro active enough to teach their own children the issues?
    Because in my opinion both options aren’t exactly straight forward.

    ‘If I have been hurt by YOUR actions, I am not the problem, you are.’ – Again, this attitude just worsens the problem. This is not an accurate statement all of the time, you do not have a monopoly on ‘feelings’. Social justice warriors everywhere complain that their feelings are hurt and half the time the ‘culprit’ had every right to behave in the way they did. Sure, when someone ‘blackfaces’ people should be offended and the person dressing up is in the wrong. But there can be a wide range of things that are said or done that are offensive only to a select few of overly sensitive people who have a very warped view of the issue at hand.

    ‘Additionally, look at yourself – your background, your privileges, your experiences – before you try to tell someone what is and what is not offensive. It is impossible to fully understand the plights of people who are not like you’ – I agree with you 100% that fully understanding somebody else from a completely different background is near impossible but again this doesn’t give certain people a monopoly on the argument. If somebody not affected by the issue provides a good argument then the race/gender/age etc. card gets played and they essentially aren’t able to weigh in on the issue any more.

    ‘You wouldn’t call someone slapping a 97 year-old woman in the face “political correctness gone mad”, would you? I don’t know, maybe you would, I cannot help you if that’s the case.’ – This doens’t make any sense

    The basis for this article is correct:
    Racism exists
    Unfortunately some people think it is ok to blackface and that is wrong
    But the way in which you have argued your point is poor.

    This is another case of overly sensitive and ill thought out student reporting.

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