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“But it’s just a costume”: This is Why Blackface is Wrong

It is currently 2018.

Two thousand and f*cking eighteen, and we still have to explain why painting your skin a darker tone for the sake of a COSTUME is wrong?


I thought we left this conversation back in the early 2000s, but apparently not. Just this week alone, I have read a startling amount of articles of people refusing to understand why blackface is bad, including Megyn Kelly defending blackface on live television and Australian students who decided to “dress up” as KKK members with one of their friends in blackface with a bowl of cotton.

Yeah. That happened.

It baffles me that people are so f*cking inept to even understand why such a thing is wrong. Blackface stems far deeper than your insistent need to look exactly like Nicki Minaj. Blackface was introduced and predominantly used in minstrel shows since the 1800s, where white performers would paint their skin black, exaggerate their lips, wear ragged clothes, then perform degrading and dehumanizing skits at the expense of black slaves.

In Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, one of these performances was described as a gathering where people would sit and laugh at the performances then take slaves and lynch them as a final hurrah.

For people who say this was a long time ago when, in fact, it isn’t (the last known use of blackface on national television was in 1978, just 40 years ago), the history still hits people the same way. I remember being in high school and sitting in a classroom of about 31 students. I was the only black person there. That day, we were discussing racism, and my teacher decided it would be cool to put up a bunch of photos of blackface performers, and even put up videos of people performing in blackface.

That was the lowest point in my life. Even though I lived in a time where I was allowed to sit in the same room with 30 white kids and receive the same education they were receiving, I still felt less than human watching people parade around in my skin tone, big lips drawn on by pink lipstick.

I felt ugly, dirty and just wrong. It hit very close to home because even though people aren’t parading on live television in blackface anymore, my body was still being used as an instrument of entertainment in modern day. This often came in the form of guys blatantly asking if I’m pink or black down there or getting messages from strangers asking to “try African” as some sort of conquest. The fact that I still have to deal with things like that and now have to deal with blackface on Halloween is something I literally don’t have the time or the energy for. I never want to feel less than ever again and I don’t want any little black girls or boys to wonder why people think their body is funny either.

This is exactly what it is, right? You just think it’s funny. You saying, “I don’t get what the big deal is; it’s just a costume,” is literally telling me you think wearing black skin is something humorous. Otherwise, why would you do it?

This is why I just don’t get why people seem to not understand that wearing another person’s skin as a costume is wrong. And I know people will bring up the movie White Chicks as a way to defend themselves, as if painting your skin black and stuffing your pants with pads to make your butt bigger isn’t just repeating history. And don’t come up to me with that “I have a black friend and they’re okay with it” bullsh*t. Good for them. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us are.

My body will not be your costume. I couldn’t care less if you wanted to be Kanye West or Black Panther for Halloween. Go ahead. You could easily do this without having to exaggerate your appearance. There is literally no need for you to have to darken your skin tone just to look like another person. And if you cannot, in all your goddamn power, think of a way to look like Diana Ross without darkening your skin tone, then I’m questioning your ability to function in life. Seriously.

It’s 2018. We shouldn’t be having this conversation anymore.

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Kirah Ougniwi

Western '19

Her Campus Western junior editor studying English literature and creative writing. Would like to pursue a career in writing, but for now, will sell-out for money.
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