Politicians, Gucci involved in blackface scandals


Courtesy of Strobridge & Co. Lith/ Wikimedia Commons

This poster from the year 1900 shows a comedian transforming himself from white to “black.” The history of blackface is long in the United States and has become a common topic of discussion in light of recent political scandals.

Blackface grew to fame around the mid-nineteenth century as a way to further reinforce negative stereotypes about black people in a society in which they were systematically mistreated and dehumanized.

Originally, white people put on blackface as part of plays and skits called minstrel shows.

Those who performed in blackface painted their faces black and drew exaggerated red paint around their lips. This practice is thought to date back to the early 1400s and has occurred as recently as 1978–over a decade after the height of the Civil Rights Movement–when the “The Black And White Minstrel Show” was made.

It has been been offensive to black people throughout history for many reasons, most notably that it isn’t accurate and is meant to mock. It has been used throughout U.S. history to dehumanize black people by portraying them as racist caricatures, rather than normal people.

Painting skin in this mocking way has become a symbol of this racist history that is still greatly offensive to African Americans.

Regarding the general depictions of the characters that they did while in blackface, Ariana Hill, ‘21, said, “Don’t like that either because let’s say a black person put on white makeup and tried to make their mouth as small as possible like their lips as small as possible. They’re gonna find it offensive. But if they try to do it to other people they try to make it seem as a joke but everybody’s like supposedly equal.”

Nevertheless, in the first few weeks of 2019, there have been several scandals in the United States involving blackface.

On Feb. 6, 2019, the fashion company Gucci removed a product on its site that resembled blackface. According to CNN, “Gucci released a statement via Twitter on Wednesday. ‘Gucci deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the wool balaclava jumper. We consider diversity to be a fundamental value to be fully upheld, respected, and at the forefront of every decision we make.’”

This begs the question of whether Gucci was aware of the offense this sweater could cause and if they had a public relations team that would recognize the racist nature of the sweater.

Regarding her thoughts on the Gucci sweater, Hill said, “Since it doesn’t look like a full blackface they probably think that is not wrong, but just by the way other people see, it just looks bad.”

Kamaia Hall-Edwards, ‘22, also shared her thoughts on the Gucci Sweater.

“I originally was confused because it was like a ski mask, like bank robbers wearing stuff, and then I noticed the red lip and I was like this reminds me of blackface, and then I saw the tweets and comments, and I was like this doesn’t sound right Gucci, or what are you guys trying to do? Like, what are your intentions?”

And this isn’t the only recent blackface scandal that has occurred. On Feb. 1, 2019, Va. Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page became public, containing photos with an individual in blackface next to an individual in a Ku Klux Klan costume. Initially, he said he was in the photo. The next day, Northam denied being either person in the picture but did admit to previously putting on blackface.

A few days later, Va. Attorney General Mark. R Herring said that he had worn blackface before.

Many have called on both of these men to step down.

Hall-Edwards shared her thoughts on the people in power not wanting to step down. “It’s not surprising, especially as a Governor and white man and power. He has that authority to just keep…people behind him…and he doesn’t have to step down. If he doesn’t want to because he feels like he can do whatever he want.”

She also commented on the Virginia leaders who were accused of blackface.

“That’s really offensive, especially like if they are higher power, they’re going to try to abuse black people just because like black people are a minority,” Hill said. “There was a situation at General Motors where there was racial things going on with the black workers. Two men came forward about it though. And I thought that that was empowering but from these other situations where people abuse their power that’s just not right. That’s very rude.”

Regarding how she feels about people laughing off blackface and saying it’s a joke, “They don’t really understand because they’re not a minority. Usually people saying that are white people, and if you want to dress as white people, like a blonde wig, and Starbucks, it’s not really offensive, because everyone does that. But if you’re making fun of someone’s culture and race, that is a part of them. You have no heart for those people,” Hall-Edwards said.

When considering potential solutions, Hall-Edwards said, “But if we address it, like we do have like these brands like Gucci and H&M, with our sweatshirt that people will slowly start to see like, okay, maybe we shouldn’t do this and it’ll start to go away.”