Monday, July 5, 2010

Black Girl, Light World VI: "Post-racist" Racism in Fashion

Instead of opening with a quote or beating around the bush or building my argument step-by-polished-step, I'm just going to come right out with it:

It is not cute.
It is not fashionable
It is not ironic.
It is not artistic.

It is racist.

In an industry that is still entrenched in racism, how can anyone think that blackface  is okay? I could almost ALMOST understand that thought process if the fashion industry was known for being racially equitable. But it's not.
In fact, this industry is notorious for being one of the most obviously racist. And this begs the question of why blackface?

Several of the comments on the articles about blackface assertively posit that this act in fashion has nothing to do with the history of blackface, but one of the thing these people forget is that the use of blackface to mock Black people isn't "history,"

example 1
example 2
example 3
example 4
example 5
example 6

It happens now in this day and age and not as infrequently as one might think. This insistence to revive racist practices while claiming not to be racist strikes me the same way as the White people who are so eager to justify their supposedly nonracist use of the n-word. My question is why are you so eager to use it? If you are so nonracist why are you so eager to revive the obviously prejudicial behavior of the past? Why is it such an issue that you MUST use blackface? Why not violetface, greenface, or burnt-indigo-vermilionface? No one has been able to come up with a satisfactory answer--or any answer--that I have been able to find in search of blackface in fashion. If someone want to point me in the right direction so I can know the reasoning behind these choices, I would greatly appreciate it.

Why paint models to be darker skinned when there are already models with darker skin? They aren't "representing" Black people are required to do that. They aren't "representing" anything but stereotypes of people's cultures. They aren't trying to inform bring awareness to others' cultures because the most logical thing to do there again would be to find, I don't know, actual Black models. The only thing being done is misrepresenting images of black people and blocking black models from jobs they should have since their skin tones are OBVIOUSLY what's needed for that particular show/shoot.

Oh that's right I forgot, it's those pesky African phenotypes, you know the fuller lips, broader nose, perhaps a flatter bridge, differently shaped bodies that challenge the reigning boyish (nonexistent) figure ideal. Things that might mess up the designer's  artistic (read starving androgynous Aryan) vision.

"So," the fashion industry says, "we have a few black models, we've let them succeed. We've met our quota and that gives us license to do whatever the heck we want! We're not racist anymore even though we often state specifically that we only want Caucasian models for runway shows, and feature Caucasian models more than anything in magazines, even though there are more than enough models of color looking for work. Tyra Banks did the blackface thing, so even though we are still racist and hate letting more than a few Black models through our couture lined gates, it's okay for us to perpetuate false images of Blackness (in an artistically ironic way, of course) and deny real images of Blackness in a single stroke."

The fact remains that Blackface is offensive. It is offensive BECAUSE IT OFFENDS PEOPLE. There is no reason, logical or artistic for putting people in blackface and it offends people. If it wasn't offensive, I and the others who have already done so wouldn't be writing blog posts about how it has offended them and others wouldn't be agreeing. Stop the madness!

In conclusion let me post a quote from Womanist Musings that is more eloquent than I can be on this topic:

When “Hey Hey It’s Saturday Night” did it, they defended their actions by saying that Australia is culturally different.  When Chuck Knipp decided to dress in drag and perform the Shirley Q Liquor show, he claimed to be celebrating Black women.  It was such a celebration that he named Shirley’s nineteen  children after venereal diseases and discount stores.  Not to worry, Knipp is a gay White male and as such could not possibly have any kind of bias or privilege.   There is also the infamous example of Blackface spearheaded by negro sell out Tyra Banks on “America’s Next Top Model”.  And every Halloween, some jerk decides that Blackface constitutes a costume.

Each incident is followed with a faux apology and the statement that the guilty party either did not know that Blackface is offensive, or that they didn’t mean to be offensive. Sometimes it is claimed that this art, and therefore; falls outside of the normal bounds of human decency.  While I agree that good art challenges boundaries, when it reaches the point of reducing the humanity of another, it is no longer art; it is a defacto statement of White supremacy...
No matter what the situation is, Whiteness will always defend its right to oppress as evidenced by the comments on this story:
Oh diddims... so people like Beyonce and Rihanna can get lightened, wear fake hair and air brushed to the max no one flutters an eyelid but when it's the other way round there is an up roar.

PC gone mad.. get lives people!
its not racist then when a black women straightens her hair and dyes it blonde,is it racist when whites go on the beach to get a tan,for Gods sake get a life
This is so stupid. If a melanin rich model or normal person on the street wears a fairness cream ( common in India) or tries to lighten her complexion , no one gives a hoot...but THIS causes a furore...
There is a continual refusal to put actions like Blackface into historical context because to do so, Whiteness would have to own its crimes against people of color. Skin lightening creams are extremely toxic and yet people use them because they have internalized a White standard of beauty.  It is an act of self hatred, whereas; Blackface is designed to specifically humiliate people of colour.  The two actions do not have the same goal, and yet they are placed side by side to justify racism...
Blackface has always been offensive and will continue to remain that way.  When you ignore the anger of a group of people to their obvious marginalization, it is because you have already decided that your privilege is worth more than their sense of self and humanity. 

No comments: