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Nick Cannon Ignites a Conversation about Blackface

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Comedian, Rapper, and talk show host, Nick Cannon, has been promoting his new album White People Party Music, and in a brilliant move got people talking about the album by stirring up a little controversy. Nick Cannon dressed in “white face” and posted a video of himself on Instagram impersonating a “white guy”, and the video immediately went viral. Many people are asking why is it offensive for a white person to wear “blackface” and a black person wearing white make-up is not considered as offensive.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

According to USA Today,

“I knew it would spark some controversy,” said Nick Cannon in a live interview on Good Morning America on Monday, “but I felt like it’s a conversation that we needed because we all have differences we embrace. I talk about it in my standup all the time. It is not a new conversation, but a topic of sensationalism.”

Even using the term “whiteface,” he said, “I don’t know what that is. … This term that we created. I was doing a character impression. Blackface is about oppression.”  Read Full Article

Nick Cannon articulates his actions as being an act or impression versus an act of oppression, and this is why many people say he gets a “pass” on wearing “whiteface”.  Many people do not see “whiteface” as offensive because it has never been used as a strategy to influence bias against an ethnic or racial group, and “white face” is not connected to the sense memories of whites to a time when they were severely oppressed for being white.

Minstrel_PosterBillyVanWare_editAdditionally, the beauty standard is white, and being white or light-skinned has always been looked at as being more desirable. For those who may be unaware, some darker skinned people avoid the sun during the summer in an effort not to get any darker, and there are also skin whiteners in the form of bleaches and creams to chip away at a skin’s melanin.

For people who don’t know why “blackface” is viewed as offensive, I’ll give a brief explanation. “Blackface” was used to portray African-Americans, not as people, but as caricatures. Emphasizing big lips and hair for comedy. I’m generations removed from the height of the “blackface” era, yet I’m offended by it, and I’m not necessarily offended by the color on their faces. What offends me is the exaggerated features of what the performers thought black people looked like, and more importantly how they portrayed that black person.

Society often validates white skin as being more amazing and better. While someone can make a person who is white into a caricature, it in no way damages or influences bias against that racial group. Having Nick Cannon dress up in whiteface doesn’t negatively affect how society views people who are white. There have been other instances such as Julianne Hough wearing “blackface,” in which I felt did not give rise to the sort of scrutiny she received.

Susan "Crazy Eyes" Warren on the Left, Julianne Hough on the Right

Susan “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the Left, Julianne Hough on the Right

Julianne Hough did not exaggerate any one of her features, and she was not unnaturally dark. Julianne probably got a spray tan, but if she was in her street clothes, I would think “hmm why is she so dark? She looks like a young Tan Mom.” The only reason why we knew she was in “blackface” was because she was going as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren from the popular show, in which I have yet to watch, Orange is the New Black.

The main reason, I believe Julianne should not have received as much flack is because she went as a “character” and not a “caricature.”  Julianne Hough was a portraying a black character that was already in existence; a character that is developed. Although I am not offended by Julianne Hough, I think that she could have gone as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren using her own skin color.

Why is “blackface” acceptable sometimes, and other times it is not? It all has to do with context, and why the person is doing what they are doing. For example when Robert Downey Jr. was playing a Kirk Lazaras on the movie “Tropic Thunder” his purpose wasn’t to make fun of African-Americans, it was to poke fun at method actors.

I think for blackface to become less offensive we need to look at the larger issue. We need to get more multicultural television shows that show black people as… people, and we need to have more African-Americans in mainstream television shows. By not having a bigger presence in mainstream television, black people are still vulnerable to the stereotypes and adverse effects of “blackface.” There is progress being made on that front, but we need more.

When Zoie get's passionate about a topic, she needs to write about it. She is a member of National Association of Social Workers and has been accepted into a graduate school of social work. She has experience with macro as well as micro social work.

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