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Blackface

I’ve never encountered such ridicule before. What makes it even more disappointing is hearing the people close to me say that it was all in the name of “fun” and people need to relax and take it easy.  As much as I understand that these costumes provide protection to the people who wear it from society during and after carnival – I just cannot understand how this makes it ok?

I attended a carnival festival recently – it was fantastic to see all the different groups of people taking to the streets much like the Kaapse Klopse festival in Cape Town, showcasing their gigantic art pieces taller than most buildings and creative dance choreography. It was brilliant however the bliss was short lived – as much as I want to keep quiet on this topic which might potentially burn some bridges, I just cannot keep this to myself anymore.

According to Wikipedia Carnival role dressing serves three main purposes:

* The costume allows people to become and act according to an identity they cannot take on or express during the rest of the year because of social standards and serves thus as an outlet for such needs.

* The costume offers a visual way of protesting or expressing criticism and mirroring by exaggeration of social circumstances, authority and daily life to break taboos, create awareness and reflect on past and current events.

* The costume provides protection when criticizing and ridiculing others because the wearer can either not be recognized or the criticism can be attributed to the role the wearer assumes during the carnival rather than to the wearer himself. Because of this the wearer can safely express his criticism and opinion without having to fear for consequences in his daily life.

What I don’t understand is how blackface fits in all of this? I’ve had so many conflicting opinions about this topic. In 2013 I dressed up as Zwarte Piet (the black guy who helps Sint Nicholas during the Dutch Christmas season) at Carnival. At the time I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing? I mean I’m a tourist and wanted to embrace the Dutch culture and traditions open heartedly which was what I did. But to be honest, over the last few years I’ve opened my eyes and started forming an opinion about these racist traditions in the Netherlands and I’m ashamed for dressing up as a black man who was widely misrepresented.

 

Blackface in the Netherlands is so normalised that people cannot see what’s wrong about it. I’ve had a conversation about carnival and the predominantly white group of carnival attendees who tried to represent Africa by painting their faces black and wearing ridiculous outfits that had not reflected Africa in any way whatsoever. I stood there watching, feeling so uncomfortable – can you imagine what it feels like for a person of colour to see white people dancing around in so called “African attire”, making funny sounds and pretending to be African?

I’ve never encountered such ridicule before. What makes it even more disappointing is hearing the people close to me say that it was all in the name of “fun” and people need to relax and take it easy.  As much as I understand that these costumes provide protection to the people who wear it from society during and after carnival – I just cannot understand how this makes it ok?

Let me explain what blackface is:

Blackface is a form of theatrical make up used by white performers to represent black people. This practice goes back to the 1800’s where white performers would entertain crowds by painting their face black, dress “like a black person would” to mock and ridicule black people. They created stereotypes where black people were portrayed as buffoons, couldn’t speak properly, are uncivilised and always chased after women. It was a racist act. And has widely been criticised in today’s media.

So how are we, in 2018 still portraying black people as buffoons!? Other Carnival goers argued that there were also other ethnic groups represented, but that does not carry the same weight as this! Dressing up as a Mexican to show you appreciate their culture is very different to using blackface which is widely viewed as a racist act? There is a difference here.

Carnival is not supposed to be serious I get that. It’s fun I get that, but why couldn’t they dress up like the big five?  Animal onesies are very cheap! Why not some of the great attractions or prominent figures in African history, why go for BLACKFACE! It is disrespectful and racist. I still love and respect the Carnival Tradition and next year I’ll be back but let’s just be aware of what we’re doing? That’s my 2cents.

 

 

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