Cultural Appropriation And Blackface: Why We Need Open Dialogue About Inappropriate And Unethical Behaviors
I feel your frustration. I want them to stop, too. But it's just not blackface, though.
I read a Vox Article where David Leonard, chair of Washington State University's department of critical culture, gender, and race studies, described it as something meant to, intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce “the idea that black people are appropriate targets of ridicule and mockery and remind us of stereotypes about black criminality, and danger,” which props up implicit bias in our society.
You know what isn’t blackface though? White people who tan or bronze isn’t blackface. Non-Black girls with “boxer braids” isn’t blackface. Becky outlining her lips in the morning isn’t blackface. Laying your baby hairs isn’t blackface because it isn’t exclusively for Black people. Cultural appropriation isn’t blackface. In fact, they are almost diametrically opposed because blackface is the mockery of a people and cultural appropriation is essentially adopting someone’s cultural (that you presumably like) as your own without their permission.
The history is definite to me and that definition is being stretched and warped to include the annoyances of 2018.
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This year has been a particularly sensitive time in America, which ultimately means racial relations are again at somewhat of a recent low. This Halloween, the wave of blackface callout pieces were as present as ever, if not more. At first, it was always “[Insert occupation] in [insert state] in blackface dressed as [insert influential black person].” However, this year I saw a quick progression within the season from that to, “Is this blackface?” and "How do we feel about this?" sort of headlines, which I take issue with.
Firstly, I took issue with it because I felt those headlines exploited the online Black community for likes, shares and traffic, even if there wasn't a story (however, that is for another time). Secondly, blackface isn’t as vague as we would like to make it seem. Blackface is a form of theatrical “makeup applied to a performer playing a Black person,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The reason this speaks to Halloween costumes in a relevant definition of the term is that the Halloween costumes we have deemed blackface, at least historically, have been white people dressed as Black people disrespectfully while mocking physical Black features and racist archetypes for the sake of a costume. This is a direct translation from Minstrel performances of the mid-1900s and earlier.
Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, is a relatively wide-reaching idea that can always be wielded correctly and incorrectly because it isn’t black and white (pun intended). What offends you is relative and what you consider your culture is also relative. I adopt many things from ethnic and non-ethnic cultures that probably couldn’t claim cultural appropriation. However, I think this is the best and most constructive way to think about any frustration you make experience when you see non-Black girls who outline their lips, curl their hair or lay their baby hairs.
We definitely need to open dialogue about the inappropriate and unethical behaviors of today, but we have to combat these dangerous norms by talking about them on a personal level with the correct terminology.