One word: Blackface.
Let there be no doubt that we at the Foghorn believe in the spirit of Halloween. Yet recently, the media has covered many, including celebrities’, Halloween costumes that have pushed many tacit societal boundaries and we feel the need to put our foot down.
In the 1830s, blackface minstrelsy was a form of popular entertainment in the United States. It was suggested that performers donning blackface — literally painting their faces charcoal black — was a way to allow audiences work out cultural anxieties and race prejudices. These performers would then begin to entertain their fans in “black bodies” while being crude, acting promiscuous and using extremely racist slurs. There is also the fact that blackface tends to perpetuate physical stereotypes portrayed by 1800s cartoons made to isolate black Americans as the “other,” as well as ridicule them.
Once you try make their color a focal point of the costume, you take away from the person you are trying to embody.
In light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, many college students this past weekend have circulated pictures of them on social media donning Trayvon Martin “costumes”, sometimes coupled with a friend dressed as George Zimmerman. Those acting as Trayvon Martin painted their face black, wore a large grey sweatshirt and held bags of Skittles and Arizona cans; while having their friends pointed plastic guns at their head wearing neighborhood watch shirts.
Beyond this being just, as many call it, “college students having fun”, actress Julianne Hough dressed as “Orange Is The New Black” character, “Crazy Eyes”, also painting her face black. She has since then apologized on Twitter due to public backlash at pictures of her that surfaced the internet, citing that “it certainly was never [her] intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way” and that she “realized [her] costume hurt and offended people…”
We would love to say that the aforementioned incidents of blackface that caused so much controversy this past weekend are isolated incidents made by a handful of people who obviously do not understand the racial implications of what they did, but college students every year are making this woefully ignorant mistake. And it seems that many do not understand that this just adds insult to injury in today’s society — a society that some people would like to label as a “post-racial America.” Yet it is obvious that race is still in the forefront of our country’s issues. The question is, is this because many are not versed in the history of blackface or is it because people really do not care about how racially insensitive they are?
The fact is you can tribute a favorite character or icon without having to bring their race into the matter. Once you try make their color a focal point of the costume, you take away from the person you are trying to embody. There is no need for “whiteface,” “redface,” “yellowface,” or “blackface” to make it clear that you are dressed as Michael Jackson or Nicki Minaj. And beyond that, we should not have to spell out the fact that dressing up as a seventeen year-old boy who lost his life to racial profiling and ignorance is sick and abhorrent.