I have been asked many times for my opinion on blackface. “What about ‘white face’, surely that’s the same thing?”
Let me answer in a very simple way - blackface is racist. But the white face question is one that we should pay attention to. Without addressing the elephant in the room, we might not be able to address the anger of black people towards blackface.
Blackface, quite simply, is racist. You can argue about this for years to come but it will not change the fact that a white person who blackens their face is a racist.
If you are a white person and you wear blackface either for halloween or the Dutch festival of Black Pete, you are also racist.
White face simply does not have the same connotations. Many will argue that there is no difference but the difference is rooted in history and codes.
Human interactions are based on coded messages, these coded messages include; body language, facial expressions, symbols, clothing, culture and more. These are ways we communicate, whether spoken or unspoken, and they inform and shape our views and opinions.
The code of whiteness is perfection, purity, elegance. It’s to be desired. Everyday, we are taught through popular culture, fashion, beauty, body type, and skin tone that whiteness is to be desired.
It is very interesting to know that in a lot of African countries, your ability to speak like the coloniser is used to rate your intelligence, and how far you will go in life.
In the world of coded messages, blackness is seen as; dirty, ugly, undesirable, evil and many more. These ideas are what first informed the concept of blackface in history.
The concept of blackface started with white entertainers mimicking black people in a derogatory way for entertainment.
The big lips, popping eyes and weird movements were used as a tool by white people to make fun of and degrade degrade black people. Blackness became a show of comedy. We were presented as clowns and in most cases, people to be feared and never to be respected.
So, while the concept of white face is rooted in the glorification of whiteness, the representation of black face is contrary to this.
But we are not objects to be laughed at and we shouldn’t be told to laugh it off by racist white people.
Generations before us might not have had the opportunity to call it out - but in 2018, we should no longer put up with it.