Native Americans often bring up — with respectful envy — the civil rights victories and cultural changes that African Americans have been able to effect. Black Americans have managed to take the "n-word" off the table, while "Redskin" is still used as the name of an NFL team. And at Halloween, while it's common for ignorant candy-seekers to dress as Native Americans, nobody thinks it's OK to leave the house in blackface.
Al Jolson in blackface in The Jazz Singer (1927); the practice was a common theatrical convention in the early 20th century
Or so we thought.
In the last week or so, we've seen a rash of blackface episodes that makes us wonder. All of these attracted media attention, and while they're all very ugly, we'd venture to say that this handful of blackface incidents pales in comparison to the number of redface costumes that will go unreported or even unremarked.
Here's hoping that we'll reach a stage when white people pretending to be American Indian is as shame-worthy as white people pretending to be black.
1. Racism With the Stars: Julianne Hough
The Dancing With the Stars dancer went to a party as her favorite character from Orange Is the New Black — "Crazy Eyes", who is played by actress Uzo Aduba, who happens to be Aftican American. So Hough happened to think it was appropriate to darken her skin for the full effect. Oh dear. She later apologized on Twitter.
2. "Dope" is right: Twitter users @DopeBieber and @KinkyStyles
A picture of two white teenagers spread like wildfire on Twitter, particularly after it was retweeted by football player Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson. The original message sent out was:
@DopeBieber: me & @kinkystyles are niggers this Halloween
3. Dishonoring the Dead: William Filene
Even if you're going for an edgy costume based on a story ripped from the headlines, you might want to draw the line at dressing as a dead teenager, complete with blood-stained hoodie. When that dead teenager is black, and you smear yourself with shoe polish in the name of authenticity, you're just being an idiot. Greg Cimeno's Trayvon Martin costume was idiotic, and posting pictures of it on Facebook wasn't exactly a genius move either.
4. Oz, the Vile and Hurtful: A Very Racist 21st Birthday Party
An Australian girl named "Olivia" threw a 21st birthday party with a simple theme: "Africa." The pictures of white people in full-body blackface are truly shocking. And for anyone who doubts that there is intentional racism at play, the guy in the Ku Klux Klan hood invalidates the argument. This was technically not a Halloween party, but we're not letting "Olivia" off on a technicality. Particularly when she posted this self-defense on her (since deleted) Tumblr page:
I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be ‘Australian themed’ or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don’t believe anyone would be offended. People wear oktoberfest cotumes [sic] to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German?
Sorry, our history book was missing the chapter in which the St. Pauli Girl was subjected to slavery and genocide. Please send us the link.
5. Stick to Your Own Sport (and Race): The "Cool Runnings" Coaches
San Diego-area high school coaches Brian Basteyns and Howard Seeley though it would be a scream to don blackface and Jamaican-flag spandex for a two-man Jamaican Bobsled Team costume. It was a scream, in that it provoked howls of outrage.
6. Nemo, Please: Worst Biggie and Tupac Impression Ever
Portland firm Nemo Designs posted a picture from a "Nemoween" party in which two white guys in blackface portrayed "Biggie and Tupac." That's right, despite the convincing likeness, the two dudes in the picture above are not actually Biggie and Tupac.
7. Disco Africa: Giving Halloween Parties a Bad Name
"We'll name our Halloween party 'Disco Africa,' — what could possibly go wrong?" We're sure the organizers of "Hallowood Disco Africa" didn't put it quite that way when they were making plans — after all, the foolish fashion-industry fete took place in Italy. But throwing a costume party with a racial theme — be it African or Native American — is massively irresponsible, to say the least. Organizers issued an apology which explained that the party was named "to reflect the growing influence of Africa in the design and fashion world." This one was so far beyond the pale, we'll give you another shot:
And of all the cake-taking going on in this story, this last image (also from "Disco Africa") really takes the cake. In the pictures above, white people are coloring their skin black in a primitive attempt to look black. It's blackface — but it's not blackface-blackface. It's not Al Jolson-Jazz Singer blackface. Nobody will go there in 2013, will they? Apparently, somebody will. At the "Disco Africa" party, well known fashion designer Allesandro Dell’Acqua actually did the full-on minstrel look. You know, like the organizers said, he's trying "to reflect the growing influence of Africa in the design and fashion world." You stay classy, Allesandro: