Blackface for Black History

WI Editorial | 3/2/2011, 11:20 p.m.

Just in time for the close of Black History Month, performer Beyonce Knowles decided to pose for the French fashion magazine L'Officiel - Paris in blackface. Outfitted in skin paint reminiscent of black cork and an animal print creation of her mother's Miss Tina line, Knowles' outlandish behavior is second to the ridiculous support she has received from among the ranks of the tragically Black and ill-informed.

L'Officiel - Paris said that the photo shoot was a salute to legendary African performer Fela Kuti, though it is unclear how blackface fits the celebration. As increased numbers of Americans debate the need and validity of Black History Month, particularly among a generation of African Americans, whose race consciousness is disjointed from reality, Knowles ignorance is appalling.

In 2010, a Bethel University senior class performed a skit using rapper Lil' Wayne's songs, while donning blackface. Students and faculty were outraged.

Regarding the incident, Ruben Rivera, a history professor at Bethel said, "[this] is an expression of deliberate and unconscious racism in America."

White college students have had a long history of performing in blackface, or dressing up in blackface for parties or Halloween.

Lip Magazine writer Tim Wise wrote in 2007 about the culture of blackface as neo-racism.

"For some, it means dressing up in blackface. For others, a good time means throwing a "ghetto party," in which they don gold chains, afro wigs, and strut around with 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor, mocking low-income black folks..."

Wise said that the 2006-2007 school year alone, saw at least 15 such events bringing the total to well over 30 in recent years. Since then, hundreds of additional events have occurred.

White students at University of Texas School of Law, Trinity College, Whitman College, Washington University, the University of Virginia, and Clemson were among the schools where the blackface incidents occurred. These students, as well as hundreds of others across the country, have been suspended and expelled from school for participating in this vehicle of white supremacy. Yet Knowles, a child of the South no less, seems to have missed the memo that no self-respecting Black person would parade themselves in blackface.

The fact that the racial trespass occurred in France is not surprising. France has always had race fascination with Black people that celebrated public spectacle and performance as primitivism. Whether it was celebrating the naked rump of Saartje Baartman, heralding Josephine Baker's topless performances in banana skirt, or inquiring behind the monkey tails they believed Black World War I soldiers had tucked in their pants, some fascination does not operate outside of humilia-tion.

What is even more outlandish Stateside, are the comments and opinions of bloggers, e- magazine editors, and fans, which consider the outrage over Knowles' blackface exploits, much to do about nothing. Ironically, it is the sound lan-guage of YRB Magazine associate editor Steven J. Horowitz that offers the most reasonable criticism of Knowles' lack of race pride and understanding. He wrote:

"Given the controversial history surrounding blackface, it's impossible to believe that both Beyonce and her team didn't think of the racial implications in painting her face. In an age when racism is still a prevalent issue, and where other artists like will.i.am have faced backlash for darkening their skin, she should have realized that anything remotely resembling blackface would raise fire from the smoke."

Comedian Paul Mooney once slammed former pop icon MC Hammer for a fried chicken commercial in which he danced about, jumping up to catch pieces of popcorn chicken in his mouth.

"What's next, watermelon chicken?" he asked.

No, perhaps next, is Black-accepted blackface.