Nick Cannon…in Whiteface?

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?

4 thoughts on “Nick Cannon…in Whiteface?”

  1. This was really interesting for me, while I think what he did is disturbing and of bad taste; I also feel like it is a different context then what blackface is. Can it really be used to oppress the white race, I don’t think it can but I do believe it is disrespecting knowing that it comes from the practice of blackface. Knowing the context of blackface and how it has disrespected the black race for so many years and still is today; it isn’t right to do the opposite and think it is okay, it will never her okay.

  2. I think Nick Cannon’s stunt is extremely shocking and disturbing, but it does not offend me the one a blackface would offend a Black person. I feel that one of the key aspects of racism is that it has a major historical presence, and the same goes for blackface. Like Annie said, there is a history of people painting their faces black making fun of Black people because they were considered inferior. But there is no such history of Black people making fun of White people in this way. It is definitely a dramatic stunt, but it is not the same thing as a White person painting themselves black. I agree with Emily, that I wish people could find a different approach to humor instead of essentializing race in every aspect of our lives.

  3. I agree with Emily and Annie, I don’t think Whiteface is as offensive as Blackface, but it’s still not very funny to me. I watched the music video for Cannon’s song “Shake It Like a White Lady” and I can tell you that none of the White women I know dance like the White women did in that video. It was annoying to me, but I’ve found humor to be a way to cope with awkward or difficult matters, so I’m not sure how I feel about this either.

  4. Meh. This is a tough one. I don’t think it is in particularly good taste. But I agree with you – Whiteface isn’t being used to oppress White people, so I think the cries of “racism” are inappropriate too. I think maybe we just need to find new ways of being funny? Essentializing people based on their social identity probably is never a good idea – although that is probably how a lot of humor operates.

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