Since I’ve already taken Obama to task on a number of issues, I might as well alienate the other half of the black community and ask what the heck was Beyonce thinking when she decided to do a fashion editorial in blackface?
The Bootylicious singer is featured on the March cover of the famous French fashion magazine L’Officiel Paris with her face darkened to, according to the magazine, pay tribute to Nigerian musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti.
Yeah, that’s right; the fashion magazine says that the editorial is meant to show Beyonce, who has noted Fela Kuti as inspiration for her forthcoming album, “far from the glamorous Sasha Fierce” and more connected to “her African roots.”
As a fan of Fela Kuti, a man who was passionate about the freedom of Blacks/Africans throughout the Diaspora, I’m not quite sure as to how blackface pays tribute to him. While my adoration for Beyonce’s talent and work ethic are unparalleled, I’m not quite sure as to why she would agree to do a photo shoot that associates her with one of the most deeply rooted racist images in American history. Nor do I understand L’Officiel Paris’ rationale that to revel in one’s “African roots,” they have to be “far away from glamorous” and fierce.
Nevertheless, Beyonce is just the tip of the black-faced iceberg since designers throughout the fashion world have taken the potentially racist symbol and turned it into the hottest thing on and off the catwalk. French Vogue was among the first to initiate the blackface trend when they featured a 14 page editorial of Dutch model Lara Stone in blackface. Not to be outdone, Paris-based Mongolian designer Tsolmandakh Munkhuu photographed her models in black paint from head to toe for the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography.
There are many more examples of this trend. But with the frequent use of this image on both the catwalk and in fashion editorial, it makes one wonder if this is a form of art or racism?
The tradition of blackface began as theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows that would “blacken” an actor’s face using shoe paint, burnt cork and greasepaint. The practice became synonymous with racism because it was used by white actors to entertain white audiences with stereotypical caricatures of blacks. This once beloved art form has played a significant role in cementing globally racist imagery and perceptions about black people.
The current tone of blackface may seem to be less malevolent today; still, the fashion industry has shown their insensitivity because this imagery is still considered in the black community to be just as insidious and hurtful as it was in the past. Blackface is not fashion forward or edgy and in my opinion, it is just flat out offensive. Black folks must have a zero tolerance policy for any manifestation of blackface, period.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.