February 24, 2011

Category: Art, Real Talk

Bootylicious Blackface: Cool or Fool?


So Sasha Fierce is rocking the burnt cork, darky look in the March issue of French magazine, L’Officiel Paris and of course she’s got folks’ Vicky Secrets all tied-up in a knotty bunch. The photo—tribal markings, outfit and all—was styled in honor of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti. Personally, I found the photo spread more boring and in bad taste than offensive, but then again it’s gonna take a lot more than Fashion Fair’s Ebony Brown on Bey’s browbone to get me pissed. That’s just how I’m wired. What I did find so friggin ignant, rude and ill was the editorial, which stated:

Far from the glamorous Sasha Fierce, the beauty posed for the magazine… A return to her African roots, as you can see on the picture, on which her face was voluntarily darkened.

The idea that returning to her “African roots” is synonymous with Sash being unglamorous is really dumb. Clearly these folks are still linking Africa to the image of the Black savage hence the tribal markings, leopard print coat and bone necklace that Beyonce dons. It’s sad that in 2011 this kind of thinking still exists never mind the fact that Beyonce is looking quite glammed up in the photos and she didn’t need to darken her skin to represent Afrobeat, Nigerians or the Motherland! Did Beyonce ever see the play Fela, which she incidentally helped to produce and see the varying brown beauties that portrayed Fela’s wives? Have any of the editors at L’Officiel Paris seen an Egyptian? I know the media has most of the world thinking Egypt is in the Middle East, but it’s a country in the North Eastern region of AFRICA. And let’s keep it real, “a return to her African roots” would have Miss Creole on some New Orleans slave plantation working her bootyliciousness off on getting those sugar cane bushels to massa. Now baby, that’s far from being glamorous. And what is this line about her face being “voluntarily darkened”? Are models, singers and everyday folk being snatched up from their post-racial snuggies and having there faces involuntarily darkened?

And where were all you ranters last year when British singer Estelle and pop-rapper Will.i.am went much harder with their blackfaces than Bey Bey ever did in L’Officiel Paris? Will.i.am looked crazier than Nicki Minaj at the 2010 MTV VMA’s and you know that’s really hard to do.

Estelle appeared in her video “Freak” with a do-rag, fuschia lips and darkened skin. Now that there kinda tapped my offended nerve. When questioned about her controversial image homegrrrl responded: “I’m Black, so how do I do black face? I refuse to defend (my look).”

So then I have to ask: Is blackface on a Black face still blackface?

Europeans seem to be oblivious or on some talk-to-the-hand ish when it comes to blackface because they constantly feature both Black and White models with dark facial makeup. Then again the history of blackface is an American one so is blackface within a European context cool? Were you offended by the beauty spread in the now famous Black (Italian) Vogue issue which featured this photo or did you see it as a kind of performative art?

And look at Sasha Gaye-Hunt (Sasha Fierce ain’t the first Sasha to pose as a darky) do her thing in this issue of i-D magazine that was published in 2007. Is she promoting the stereotype of the dandified coon?

But yes, I do remember a few people blowing a gasket when Lara Stone appeared with her face darkened in French Vogue back in 2009.

Was Vogue playing around with racial stereotypes and being insensitive pricks like Ted Danson and Whoopi back at their Friars Club roast in 1993?

I wonder what Bert Williams would say about all of this blackface backlash? Back in the late 1800’s/ early 1900’s Williams, who voluntarily performed in blackface, was the highest paid African-American entertainer of his day. He was the only Black member of the Ziegfeld Follies when he joined them in 1910 and upon his passing Booker T. Washington said this about him: “He has done more for our race than I have. He has smiled his way into people’s hearts; I have been obliged to fight my way.”

So what say you? Blackface– cool ish or foolish?

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13 Responses to “Bootylicious Blackface: Cool or Fool?Comment RSS feed

  • Ms Q
    February 24th, 2011 9:12 pm

    “Are models, singers and everyday folk being snatched up from their post-racial snuggies and having there faces involuntarily darkened?” **dead**

    As always, love your take on this fake controversy. To paraphrase someone else more eloquent than I: “To return to her roots should have meant that she removed the makeup and ever-present weave”

    The whole photo spread was trite, corny and so #notfly…did they really think they were breaking new ground by returning to the cliche “african sauvage”?


    The world according to Ms Q – my take on what’s interesting, stylish and cool: restaurants, food, wine, music, cocktails.

    Asia-based, internationally-focused, American-flavored

  • Justin
    February 24th, 2011 10:11 pm

    First of all, I agree that the editorial was more of an issue than the photograph. The language indicated an underlying notion of Africans as savage and inherently un-glamarous. Ugh.

    But we need to take a page from our Jewish brothers and sisters when in comes to ish like this. No Jewish person would ever tolerate someone in a Nazi costume, just because the person wearing it was Jewish. They keep it simple: all things Nazi are bad and won’t be tolerated. We, on the other hand make so many exceptions to all of our ‘rules’ that is renders them completely useless. “Don’t say the N word, unless you’re Black, or a rapper or one of the cool white cats that we grew up with who we know don’t mean it in a bad way.” “Don’t dress up in blackface unless you’re black, or in a European fashion magazine, or directing your own music video.”

    We need to get our ish together and stand for something or just shut up. Consistency might not be universally respected, but at least folks will know where we stand.

  • Nae
    February 24th, 2011 10:56 pm

    yeah…what Justin said this is not coolish or foolish its just the same ol “ish”

    “The burnt cork” and “darky look”…was straight up cold, Hotness!!! Alex Wek is beautiful and that is just about her shade–so I usually see the point, I denote sarcasm here I hope; although regardless of the context those inferences were kind of mean girlish, don’t ya think???

    A lot of the time that Bert Williams performed, Blacks were not even permitted in the theater. Back then blackface was more like cross-dressing is today in entertainment, it made “folk” feel comfortable around black males, made black males acceptable to them, much like the feminization of black males in the entertainment industry makes folks feel good today. All of this still, “plays a significant role in cementing and proliferating racist images, attitudes and perceptions”.

    I’m sure all Bert Williams was concerned about was that money, so I reiterate Justin’s point, does anyone have any integrity or any consistency, anymore, we could use a Malcolm right now-“-If we don’t stand for something, we will always fall for anything” and “we will always suffer from the same wounds, only instead of being fresh wounds they can just keep rippin the scabs off…its the same pain!” (As stated by a famous political commentator)

  • […] had to add this comment that I saw on theHotness.com because it captured the issues of the Black community that we seem to never learn from & create […]

  • theHotness
    February 25th, 2011 1:06 pm
    Author's Reply

    @Ms. Q: Fake controversy indeed and I love that comment about Bey being natural as a way for her to return her roots. Classic!

    @Justin: You are right on point as usual! And since you and Ms. Q are the only ones who got my sarcastic literary wit let me break it down so as L-Boogie says “everyone can hear me.”

    1.) Burnt cork was used to make blackface back in the day. Coldblooded and offensive? Nah, just factual.
    2.) I specifically used the word “darky” to contextualize Bey’s blackface within a specific racial, historical timeframe where people who wore blackface were considered by both blacks and whites as Darkies. This is what many of my peers would call “driving the point home.”
    3.) I was being sarcastic, witty and writing in my USUAL tongue-n-cheek cultural literary style made famous by my writing heroes Greg Tate, Ntozake Shange, Toni Cade Bambara, Ishmael Reed & Paul Beatty.

    @Nae: Black people were allowed in theaters in NYC in 1900 they just had their own section way up in the galleys in the back. Furthermore, I specifically used Bert Williams as an example of blackface performer because he wasn’t just cooning for the loot. Through his fame he did many things to advance Black life. If he had not, I doubt Booker T. would have been some so complimentary

    I urge everyone to read his biography “Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star” by Camille F. Forbes. One of the best bios I’ve ever read! Thanks so much for all of your comments. I keep telling potential advertisers that theHotness has the smartest, most outspoken readers of any dotcom!

  • Nae
    February 25th, 2011 1:37 pm

    Hotness, as stated, I too, got the sarcasm but I repeat its still painful despite the context. I did state………..”I denote sarcasm here I hope”; although regardless of the context those inferences were kind of mean girlish, don’t ya think???

    I know where the terms derived and still think they are offensive despite the context and emphasis of the points you are making in this piece. The terms are not necessary to carry the point. They scream so loudly that they drown out the rest of the theme of the post.

    Additionally, Blacks were segregated at the theatre and few were only allowed to attend during certain times. Part of the minstrel show was for the performers to point out the few blacks allowed in the theatre at a time.

    Further, it is important to try to see varied perspectives of an issue. One point does not negate another; I never said that Bert Williams did not contribute to entertainment or the advancement of Black life. Further it is my strong opinion that while Booker T Washington was a great, intelligent, outstanding person, he was also an accomodationist so his adoration for a minstrel performer that appeased the masses and entertained them does not surprise or impress upon me as complimentary.

  • t.tara
    February 25th, 2011 1:57 pm

    I love the questions and the comments! Isn’t it funny if black folks change their face color one way or the other, we get heat? But when white folks tan, it’s just another economic industry. Some folks literally have a problem with Bey going DARKER…I keep saying that out loud and it doesn’t sound right. There so many beautiful shades of black that I wonder why we, black folks, can’t explore them. This is different from the N word because this is literal. There are literal colors of others being represented by those who are in their same color scheme. Maybe I’m off my game here. I do agree with Justin in terms of getting our ish together but I don’t actually consider this issue an ish. I think education, poverty, jobs, Clarence Thomas, Kevin Powell’s recent BLATANT racism episode with the valet in LA are issues. A black person going darker for art is kinda lower on my totem pole.

  • t.tara
    February 25th, 2011 2:01 pm

    Oh and I totally forgot the brilliance that is Robin Givhan and her recent article in NY Mag over some of this:


  • theHotness
    February 25th, 2011 3:32 pm
    Author's Reply

    @Tara: For the record people have issues when Beyonce goes lighter AND darker. Remember her Vogue cover? When it comes to Black folk and complexion it, quite evidently, is still a very touchy subject. Thanks for the NYMag link. I’ve heard quite a bitt about this story.

  • Shana
    February 25th, 2011 6:45 pm

    Hey, appreciated your argument. Just a quick note: Blackface was originally the product of European imperialism in the 16th and 17th centuries. Queen Anne blacked up in 1605. See Michael Rogin’s book, White Face Black Noise.

  • t.tara
    February 25th, 2011 7:27 pm

    Yes, that’s what I meant. Beyonce goes up and down the color spectrum and the crowd goes wild either way. Visually I prefer the darker spectrum AND, like somebody just said on Twitter, going darker and blackface do seem to be two different things.

  • Ms Q
    February 26th, 2011 12:03 pm

    @hotnessgrrrl & @t.tara the issue isn’t the actual color of the person (well, at least not in this context). It’s the implications that are perceived if someone artificially lightens or darkens their natural skin tone. So, Bey being significantly darkened for this spread and then the text reading “returns to her African roots”, makes me feel a type of way about it…and when they make her artificially light/bright/almost white, I feel a type of way too. The former is done to make some kinda so-called, half-a$$ed artistic statement and the latter seems to imply that her looking closer to the white standard is better…