What Blackface Is, Why It's Racist, And Why No, You Can't Ever Do It
So in case you hadn't heard, the "Chocolate Challenge" is the latest blackface scandal.
Beauty vlogger, Vika Shapel, is the latest one to employ blackface for her YouTube beauty channel video.
For the challenge, she and a friend gave half of their faces a significantly darker shade of makeup. The ladies' eyes were also edited from their original blue hue to a brown color, which appeared to be an obvious attempt to recreate the look of a woman of African descent.
Shapel captioned the now deleted Instagram post that promoted her also deleted video, writing,
Something fun is coming to YouTube, idk if there is a challenge like this but we haven't seen it so Im calling it the chocolate challenge! Come watch us transform into deep chocolate skin tones from our pasty pale.
Another beauty vlogger, Arnell Armon, called her out on Twitter.
The post sparked a long thread of Twitter users expressing their disgust with Shapel's challenge, including a few people who shared that they had reported her social media accounts.
The backlash came down so heavy that Vika Shapel initially removed the posts, then just shut down all of her social media accounts.
She gave her side to Yahoo! News and explained that she simply wasn't aware of the racial insensitivity of blackface.
Shapel told the news outlet,
I simply wanted to see how I looked in a deeper skin tone. I wasn't aware of the whole black-face concept before people began commenting it on the photo. I would like to apologize to people that were hurt or offended by my post, and it won't happen again.
While her statement about not being "aware" of the blackface concept or that it's racist is likely true, this oversight is still quite odd.
Blackface, particularly when done in the beauty industry as a look switch, has been dragged on social media consistently.
Kim Kardashian's slightly darker photos were just the center of controversy in June, which she issued an apology for, corrected the photo shades, and confirmed that blackface was not at all her intent in a New York Times interview.
In March, it was beauty influencer Jeffree Star and model, Nikita Dragun, who was featured in one of his ad campaigns with much darker skin than usual.
Dragun released the following statement to Pop Sugar, explaining the change in skin tone,
It's very unfortunate that a section of the community is choosing to interpret and liken my image in Jeffree Star's campaign to blackface. The message of this campaign is intended to welcome all gender identities, sexualities, and races to enjoy the makeup line. Additionally, the creative design for the imagery called for high contrast between light and shadow, and low lighting, which lends itself to creating a mood for the imagery. This campaign is so exciting and so disruptive. I'm proud to be featured in it as a transgender woman of mixed race (my mother being Mexican and my father Vietnamese). I'm disappointed that anyone would choose to critique the creative design of this incredibly inclusive campaign, rather than celebrate the diversity in it.
People also called out Instagram makeup artist, Paint Dat Face, for giving a model a makeover in March that seemed to completely alter her racial look.
According to Allure magazine, he addressed the blackface accusations by affirming that his intent was not to change up the appearance of her race, but instead, to divert from the "glam" looks he had been seeing and "challenge" himself to do something different.
This is about one woman acknowledging, embracing and celebrating the beauty of another women's culture. I didn't want this to become another reason to stir up negativity. This is, by far, the proudest I've ever been of my work.
In another statement he posted after deleting the original photo, also shared by Allure, he wrote,
I deleted the post, not because I had regret or saw wrongdoing, but because of the negativity social media turned it into. It's been assumed by most that my intentions were to transform my model into a black woman. Truth is, my intentions were to keep the look vague enough to be relatable to many women of different cultures.
The consensus seems to be that the alleged blackface perpetrators either aren't aware of blackface at all like Vika Shapel, didn't know something they did would be considered blackface like Kim Kardashian, or can't understand how their behavior is at all compared to blackface like Jeffrey Star's model and the makeup artist, Paint Dat Face.
Maybe the confusion is due to these people being unaware of blackface's history?
In short, it's racist AF.
The slightly less brief history lesson is that in the 1920s and '30s, white people in minstrel acts used to make comedy and musical shows mocking black people.
These shows created black characters that were stereotypically loud, goofy, often clumsy, and comical, yet rarely demonstrated intelligence or any other characteristic that might command respect and emphasize humanity.
And yes, these terrible shows were visibly marked by white actors' faces painted darker and lips painted in an exaggerated large size.
Examples of these shows are Swing Time, the 1936 dance musical starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Wizard Of Oz's Judy Garland also starred in a 1938 blackface musical called Everybody Sing. Clips from both are still readily available on YouTube.
Blackface has also played a role in sparking violence.
An example is the 1915 D.W. Griffith film, The Birth Of A Nation, which depicted a race war between Aryans and black people (played by white people in blackface) that required the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members to defend the Aryan race against black people.
Black men were depicted as prone to lust and the storyline had them attempting to rape white women. The film, which is a little over three hours is obvious bigotry and was the first film to ever be screened at the White House, which should give you a great idea of just how widely its racist propaganda was received.
According to the LA Times, President Woodrow Wilson praised the film, saying,
It's like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.
The Birth Of A Nation inspired the surge in KKK memberships and the reintroduction of the White supremacist group as a public organization, according to multiple news outlets.
Slate reports that in Indianapolis, a 15-year-old black male high school student was also shot and killed by a white male adult who had just exited a screening of the film.
This eery history can't be erased with our love for makeup and taking cool pictures.
Even if blackface had no racist past, a race is not a costume.
People of color — blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Indians, etc. — have long been victims of discrimination and racially charged violence because of their skin color. A white person, who is undoubtedly part of the majority group, whimsically sliding into their skin color for a moment is an act of insensitively boasted privilege.
People with darker skin tones can't just wake up, decide to be lighter, and then go be lighter. They can't wake up and slip out of the oppression they face each day because of what they look like. To take on their skin tone in the name of temporary creativity and fun is to flaunt your ability to dip into their color without ever facing the oppression that they can't escape.
To do this is to acknowledge that their color is in the oppressed non-mainstream category (which is why you want to try it on for exotics) and to also say you just don't care about it because it is serving fun to you.
When people call this out, they aren't creating a "racist scandal" as Paint Dat Face dubbed it, but instead, they are fighting back against a person and an entire system that pushes them to the sidelines, yet plays with them when they feel like it.
The fact that Vika Shapel was not "aware" of blackface at all says so much. It says that she may know racism exists, but isn't aware of how she and others might perpetuate it. Meanwhile, people of color are forced to know this racism.
People in the majority can't join minority groups in the fight against injustice if they don't even know what those injustices look like.
And how will they ever know what it looks like if the people who attempt to explain it are written off as whiners?
"If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say that you enjoyed it," author Zora Neale Hurston once said.
So here are the facts: Blackface is racist, harmful, and hurtful even if it's not racist, harmful, and hurtful to you. Using makeup or darker lighting or paint or anything else to make your skin appear significantly darker qualifies as blackface.
Just don't do it.