Models Sophie Applegarth and Julie Iovenitti dressed up as tennis players Venus and Serena Williams for a Christmas party through the use of blackface. “There is nothing racist about backing [your] favorite sport stars,” Applegarth and Iovenitti said in defense. Later, Applegarth put out a statement saying that they had no intent to be racist when they put these outfits on.
Blackface has always been a contested issue in the United States. When these girls decided to smear their body with brown paint, they made the decision to perpetuate black stereotypes dating back to the 19th century. Although they though they were “honoring” their favorite sports players, they were continuing a tradition that started from white men characterizing blacks through minstrel shows. Blackface was used as a means to represent the stereotypes that whites believed blacks to have.
Applegarth and Iovenitti are fetishizing black skin and it seems condescending. Seeing that they are two successful white women who are most likely successful because of the color of their skin, to use another race as a Christmas party costume is disrespectful. They are disregarding the negative connotations and the history of a whole race of people and they are making a mockery of themselves along with the black community. When people use blackface, they are codifying blackness. Unfortunately, this is a theme that continues to persist today in many spheres, such as performance spaces and college themed parties. In the end, the people who used blackface tend to claim that there was nothing ill intentioned at all about their actions. I wonder when people will recognize that blackface is not okay and truly understand why it isn’t okay. Is blackface something that just the white population does because of their dominant master white narrative? Or is blackface something that other races are also guilty of taking part in?
3 thoughts on “Blackface – Demeaning or Disgusting? #YouDecide”
The questions you pose at the end are very interesting, especially when some countries in Europe actually have parade days wherein they wear blackface. American tourists (including many of my friends abroad) could not believe the display blackfaces across their city in the Netherlands. If you asked anyone, they claimed they didn’t recognize it as an issue of race at all.
Of course, though, it’s a huge issue and not recognizing how problematic it is seem naive. A lot of it, it seems to me, stems from the groundwork of cultural appropriation — as white people we’ve seized so much of the identity of minority groups that blackface (especially as it originated in theatrical performances) is incredibly taunting on top of all else. Blackface has been used as a deeply demeaning caricatures that played into and perpetuated stereotypes.
Venus and Serena Williams are inspiring athletes but they should be admired without trying to be embodied.
It’s 2018 and I cannot believe that people are still doing this. The statement that, “Blackface was used as a means to represent the stereotypes that whites believed blacks to have” truly resonated with me for the argument against blackface. In this specific case, if Sophie Applegarth and Julie Iovenitti both dressed up as tennis players Venus and Serena Williams for a Christmas party wearing tennis skirts, a tank top, and holding a tennis racket, wouldn’t people assume that they were portraying Venus and Serena? What was the purpose of painting themselves? It was unnecessary and disregards the deep rooted history of blackface and other forms of cultural appropriation. I think on an individual level it is a person’s reponsibility to, “if you see something, say something”. If someone does something that is “off,” “in bad taste,” or just straight up racist, it is so important to not be a bystander and to stand up for what is right.
This is a very interesting topic because it is something I have not been aware of, so thank you for bringing this topic to light. As I continued reading this, I immediately thought of cosmetic products that are available to lighten (bleach) skin. Therefore, there are people of other races who will actually buy products to appear less black. So, as we are practicing Blackface, others are working hard to eliminate their natural born skin color. This experience shows how hard individuals will work to not be the minority and how the white lifestyle is simply that much different. They are willing to change their color for a night, but really they are and will forever be white and will never experience the same encounters black individuals do. I think the practice of Blackfacing would be primarily done by White individuals and not all minority groups because whites do not suffer from any stereotypes as other groups do. Therefore, they have no fear and no concern for pretending to be a different race for the one night, in fact it is one big joke to them. Nonetheless, although this example of Blackface was not intentional, it is still just as hurtful. I am genuinely curious to see how often something like this happens because that is truly scary to see our society practicing such a thing.
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