A few days ago, I came across this article about Nick Cannon in Whiteface on the website Jezebel. At first, I wasn’t even sure that it was Nick Cannon. Then, I kind of hoped that it was some weird joke or botched Photoshop job. Neither turned out to be true. Turns out, it’s a promotion Cannon was doing to promote his new album: “White People Party Music”. Apparently, his White alter ego is named Connor Smallnut, which is a weird choice that I’m not even going to begin elaborating on because I wouldn’t even know where to start.
However, there is a lot to be discussed about Whiteface. Blackface, as most of us know, was a tactic employed by White minstrels in the 19th century, during the Jim Crow era. White (mostly) men would paint their faces black and perform a show for other white people. It’s been largely and widely condemned now, though we still have seen some unfortunate instances of ignorant, idiotic white people employing it even now.
So what can be said for Whiteface? Despite cries of “racism!!!!!!” on the comments section of the article, I think it is safe to rule that out, since institutional racism is not in play here. As one particularly astute commenter noted, ” There is no troubling history of black folks using whiteface to oppress and marginalize whites. It may be silly and in poor taste, but it ain’t racist.”
The act of painting oneself in order to perform another race is never appropriate, but it is far less detrimental to White culture than it is to Black culture. Making fun of white people has become pretty fashionable with blogs like Stuff White People Like, or the twitter account “Shit White Girls Say”. But while it does essentialize groups of people, it does not take away their agency, appropriate their culture, or contribute to demeaning, dehumanizing stereotypes in the same way that it does for Black people.
What do you guys think of Cannon’s stunt? Do you find Whiteface as inappropriate as Blackface? Why or why not?