What’s With All the Blackface?

So much for a post racial planet.

The Minstrels, 1962
The Minstrels, 1962

Blackface, it seems, is the new black, albeit in faraway places like Australia and France.

An Australian TV show caused quite an uproar when a group calling itself Jackson Jive performed the song “Can You Feel It” wearing huge black wigs and blackened faces.

Then, French Vogue features a 14 page spread in its October issue with a model, also in blackface.


The Australian performers apologized, but not until after being condemned by none other than Harry Connick Jr., who happened to be a guest on the show.

So what’s going on here? a fair number of equivocators are posing the “what if” scenario. It’s like, what if a black person was dressed in whiteface? Isn’t that okay? What’s the difference? Why is everyone so sensitive? Others try to chalk it up to an American sensibility.

Popular Japanese recording group, Gosperats
Popular Japanese recording group, Gosperats

Australians and the French don’t share America’s history of minstrel shows, and therefore should get a pass on this. Or so the logic goes. Trouble is, in both cases past and present history is being ignored.

Leave aside, for the moment, America’s racist past practice of reinforcing stereotypes by popularizing the minstrel show.

Let’s talk about Australia. This is a place where dark skinned people, the Aborigines, were systematically driven off their land just as Native Americans were here. It wasn’t until 1967, 200 years after Europeans settled in Australia, that Aborigines were even counted as human beings in the nation’s census. They were also the butt of numerous stereotypical jokes in Australian entertainment during much of that time.

As for French Vogue, it should be noted that nowhere in its October “blackface” issue is there a single model of color. Not to mention the difficulty black models still encounter trying to get work (Naomi and Iman notwithstanding). Sure, Vogue has a history of “over the top” presentations on its pages. And sure, with the magazine industry in steep decline everyone’s trying to something to get attention. But this?

If there are points to be made for presenting such nonsense, they escape me. And let’s be clear. This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about knowledge of one’s past, and a basic human sensitivity that seems to elude both magazine editors and television producers. Perhaps now that both the Australian show and French Vogue have been called out, there have been lessons learned, and folks can move on.


But you tell me. Will we see more blackface portrayals in the future?

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