National Treasure, Robin Givhan, Takes on Blackface in Fashion (And Elsewhere)

In the wake of multiple blackface scandals last week (I need to shower after writing that), The Washington Post’s indelible Robin Givhan took the time to contextualize the racist behavior that just won’t stop.

(For those of you that somehow made it to this page but also avoided any recent news, Virginia’s gubernatorial wing has been outed as little more than a Russian Nesting Doll of racist and sexually deviant behavior, while Gucci released a gross black turtleneck with a bright red cutout at the mouth.)

“Blackface is in the news,” Givhan wrote. “But then, blackface always seems to be in the news… As long as there are costume party revelers, thickheaded college students, button-pushing artists, free-associating designers and plain old unrepentant racists, there will be blackface.”

Givhan goes on to say that blackface is “in essence, a kind of fashion — one rooted in the dark, arrogant insecurity of white supremacy, one inspired by this country’s original sin — that keeps evolving year after year until each iteration is just a little bit different from the previous one.”

Consequently, Blackface “isn’t a fad or a one-off,” she argues. “It’s a classic that’s embedded in the cultural vocabulary. Reimagined, modernized, stylized… Blackface gets to the discomforting core of how black people are seen by the broader culture and how some white people see themselves.”

So even though “Prada dressed Lupita Nyong’o on the red carpet and Gucci loaned Donald Glover clothes,” it doesn’t absolve the former from producing a “Golliwog-like charm” nor does it make Gucci’s wretched balaclava sweater any more palatable.

Making matters even more fraught, she posits, is the ugly motivation behind the practice in the first place. “It’s an opportunity to dabble in otherness and then wipe off the black and go back to being ‘so white’ with all the benefits that entails.”

“Blackface, though, is more than drag,” Givhan writes. “It’s painful, shared history, of course. But it’s also the horrible present. And it’s likely part of a crummy future. Blackface is denial and ignorance. It’s narcissism, willfulness and disdain.”

She concludes, “Blackface is not a statement about which race matters more; it’s a reminder of who set up the whole ugly system.”

You can read more about it The Washington Post.

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