“DISCLAIMER: No racism intended.” - Statement from Lambda Theta Delta’s original post of “Suit & Tie” blackface video, per The Huffington Post
That stunning “disclaimer” over a University of California-Irvine fraternity’s use of blackface to interpret the Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z track “Suit and Tie” makes the fraternity’s subsequent “apology” ring hollow.
“We sincerely apologize if we offended anyone whatsoever,” president Darius Obana told KCBS-TV. “On behalf of my brothers who were involved in the video, know that it was unintentional. But unintentional or not we do know that it was wrong.” Continue reading →
I wasn’t going to originally post anything on Zwarte Piet but, after seeing discourse after discourse on the holiday of Sinterklaas, I decided to write about it. Ah, where to begin.
I celebrated Sinterklaas as a child. Since my parents were from the Dutch Caribbean, we would go every December 5th to the Dutch consulate in New York City and eagerly sit with the other children (we were usually the only children of color) while Sinterklaas handed out our presents. And, of course, to accompany Sinterklaas, this saintly white man who represented a bishop, were his ‘helpers’ or Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). These would usually be men, or women, dressed up in blackface with an Afro wig and bright red lipstick. The legend goes that if you’re bad, Zwarte Piet will take you in his burlap sack to Spain. So naturally I was mortified of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) as a child. You mean to tell me that this dude who dresses flamboyantly and has this jet black makeup on his face is going to collect me and ship me off to Spain with him? OH HELL NO!!
As I grew up and learned about Golliwogs and minstrel shows, I started to notice a pattern. This beloved holiday that I celebrated as part of my ‘heritage’ seemed to overlap a lot with blackface in America. The similarities are undeniable.
Another Monday, another post-awards show morning, another day of waking up and asking myself if I really just saw what I thought I saw. Because there’s absolutely no way that I really saw Billy Crystal in blackface on national television the night before.
And for all I know, maybe I didn’t. No one’s talking about it. It didn’t seem to have made any morning news show headlines. I didn’t hear Kelly Ripa and Neil Patrick Harris mention it and I missed seeing what the women of The View had to say, but given Whoopi’s track record with the hot topics of the day I’m guessing I wouldn’t have been impressed.
Oh, but wait, a quick dive into the comments section at Jezebel (why do I do this to myself?) confirms that I did not, in fact, dream up what I saw last night. Not only did it happen, but it seems to have already been rationalised by the general public. You see, blackface is apparently no longer offensive, especially if it’s not being done to intentionally hurt anyone’s feelings. We’re in post-racial America! These things no longer carry the weight they once did. There’s no need to analyse it to death. It was just a sketch!
Foolishness like this is making it really hard for me to get my fill of pretty red-carpet dresses.
“I remember your grandfather leaving the house in blackface to perform at the local Jewish community center,” my mom told me. “They just didn’t know what it meant back then,” she explained, “not until after WW II.” As an activist involved in contemporary solidarity work across racial lines, I was shocked to discover this racist history in my near past. As an Ashkenazi Jew* (of European descent) whose grandparents immigrated to the US around the turn of the century, I don’t always see myself implicated in the American legacy of slavery, but I was forced to reconcile the fond memories of my jovial grandfather with this haunting image of him performing racial minstrelsy. Trying to make sense of this image, I began researching the history of Jewish blackface between WWI and WWII and was surprised to discover a connection between my current activism and this history of blackface: When we are not rooted in our Jewish identities, we risk stereotyping, appropriating, and over-identifying with other cultures.
To understand the complicated history of alliance, disconnection, and overlap between Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans in between the world wars, I turned to Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, which considers how Jews negotiated competing claims on their identities and Michael Rogin’s Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, which looks more specifically at the role of blackface in Americanizing Jews. As European Jewish immigrants arrived in the US, their presence intersected with the dominant black/white system of racial relations in various ways. At different times, Jews and African Americans were linked tightly together in American consciousness as evidenced by the case of Leo Frank (1913-1915), which sets the stage for Jewish-Black relations in between the wars. A Jewish factory manager in Georgia, Frank was accused of raping and murdering a white girl who worked in his factory. Frank was found guilty (in spite of flimsy evidence) and sentenced to death, but the Governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. A journalist warned in a headline: “The next Jew who does what Frank did is going to get exactly the same thing we give to Negro rapists” (Goldstein 43). Frank was then kidnapped from prison and lynched by a white mob. Continue reading →
A reader sent us this ad for what Duncan Hines is calling “Hip Hop Cupcakes.” Uh huh.
I couldn’t embed it because the coding’s wonky, but as you might expect, the commercial for these cakes takes its’ cue from the old California Raisins ads, which adds another layer of weirdness: if you’re going to call them hip-hop cupcakes, then shouldn’t at least one of them at least do a verse? Or was “Beatboxing Biscuits” already taken? At least some folks on the ad campaign’s YouTube page have caught on to its’ problematic nature and pointed it out.
Via Claire at the Fashion Bomb, French fashionistas are boycotting the beauty brand Guerlain due to racist comments made by Jean Paul Guerlain. The Fashion Bomb explains:
When talking about working on a fragrance, he said “I put myself to work like a [n-word]. I don’t know if the [n-words] have always worked hard, but…” ["Je me suis mis à travailler comme un nègre. Je ne sais pas si les Nègres ont toujours tellement travaillé mais enfin..."] The actual word he used was nègre, which, translated, could mean anything from negro to coon to the n-word.
Also, in fashion faux pas, Threadbared points out yet another ad featuring a white model in blackface:
by Guest Contributor Minh-ha, originally published at Threadbared
This post is supposed to be about the latest occurrences of blackface in fashion — specifically, the 14-page editorial featuring Lara Stone, a white Dutch model, painted black and shot by Steven Klein for the October 2009 issue of French Vogueand also Carlos Diez‘s show at Madrid Fashion Week (September 22, 2009) in which models walked in blackface and, at times, with bared breasts.
There is indeed quite a lot to say about both events. To begin, fashion’s seeming ineptness for dealing with race in ways that do not accommodate and/or supplement the already too long histories of racial objectification and commodification. We’ve discussed much of this history on Threadbared (see especially here, here, here, here, and here) already and will no doubt continue to, as there seems to be an inexhaustible amount of material. Second, these events (and others like it) are revealing of the ways in which multiculturalism and multiracialism –under the guise of postracialism, postmodernism, or just artistic edginess– enables the continuation of white supremacy. Continue reading →
I think I overestimated my capacity for brevity and so what was supposed to be a three part series will probably end up spreading out further as I try to unpack and look into the long relationship between race and cinema.
Last time, I established the tension that existed between the actual craft of the actor and the need for verisimilitude in mainstream entertainment cinema. Obviously, this interacts with race in that, while as actors, by craft, should be able to portray characters not their own race, the demands of needing what is seen to match consistently with the reality unfolding on the screen, the actor portraying the role should actually appear to be same race as the character.
While this might seem rather common sense, we find that, in the history of cinema, the actual representation of race in film doesn’t necessarily hold to the demands of cinematic verisimilitude. Ultimately, in film (and later, television history), there is actually a long history of casting of characters of color with white actors and ignoring, eliminating or marginalizing characters of color. The former is a rather extensive topic and so I’ll be focusing on that first.
One of the main mechanics by which (usually) white actors would perform characters of color is using makeup and prosthetics to approximate stereotypical racial characteristics, the most famous applications of which is called blackface. However, as the racial spectrum was rather wide and the ideas of whiteness morphed and changed over time, not only were black characters subject to this process, but characters of any ethnicity not considered white at the time were. Hence, due to the rather broad range of colors used to describe this technique, I’ll be calling it colorface here.