Dear White People: The Only Time it’s Ever Okay to Wear Blackface

20 Oct

blackface4Dear White People, Blackface and Cosplay

Dear White People came out in theaters over the weekend and was so full of truth. The movie hit close to home for many black students on a predominately white college campus, displaying race relations with humor. It’s a satirical film with a breath of fresh air amongst the Tyler Perry films and all those movies where Kevin Hart plays the same character again and again. Though Dear White People had its flaws, it’s definitely a must-see.

The climax of the movie takes place at a race-themed party, where white students are invited to “unleash their inner negro,” and dress in blackface, afros, and obnoxiously large chains—like they’d just walked out of the “All Gold Everything” video (thanks, Trinidad James).

Sadly, these parties aren’t uncommon on college campuses, and ignorant white people party in the most insulting outfits they can find. Somehow, the conversation always comes back to blackface.

We haven’t even made it to Halloween yet and people are already donning blackface. Recently, cosplay enthusiast Kira Markeljc received loads of backlash for darkening her skin to cosplay Michonne from The Walking Dead.

blakface2

So people began to question whether cosplay is an acceptable time to darken your skin for a black character.

Cosplayers often paint their skin to become characters like the Hulk or Mystique. However, painting your face blue or green is not the same as painting it in someone else’s race.

Blackface is rooted in our nation’s racist past. It was used to mock black people in minstrel shows. A blackface character made fun of slaves and free blacks of the 19th century. These minstrel shows cemented and proliferated racist images of black people around the world. And much of those ideas about black people from those minstrel shows still exist today.

blackface1

So yes, hundreds of years later, blackface is still insulting.

I’m sure the cosplayer didn’t mean to insult anyone—but she did. Her intentions mean very little and her ignorance doesn’t make her innocent—especially considering she was not at all sorry after people called her out on it. She could have easily played Michonne without the paint, and not resurrected the ghosts of America’s racist past (and present).

So for the record, no—it is never okay to wear blackface. Not for Halloween. Not for cosplay. Not for anything.

Oh and dear white people, you can also stop dressing up as Native Americans, Latinos, and any other race or ethnicity for Halloween; it’s just as racist.

 

P.S.: Go see Dear White People. Let me know what you think of the movie.

Columbus Day and the Erasure of Black History

13 Oct

Came Befoe Columbus

We all know Columbus didn’t discover America.

Yet, 522 years later, famous white people still get credit for the accomplishments of folks of color. Just ask the LA Times and Marie Claire who invented cornrows, Forbes who runs hip hop, and Vogue who made big booties fashionable. Women who look like Iggy Azeila, Kendall Jenner, and Miley Cyrus get most of the credit.

The trend of discovering something new that’s not new has been in style since 1492. So we cannot forget to tip our hats to Christopher Columbus, the man who started the “discovering” trend himself.

Meanwhile, the African explorers depicted in the Olmec heads are turning over in their ancient Mexican graves thinking, “Been there, done that…Where’s our holiday?”

Contrary to popular belief, Africans from Ancient Nubia and the Mali Empire came to the Americas more than 2,000 years before Columbus, and no, they were not slaves (you gotta make that clear for some folks). They were explorers and drifters who happened upon foreign lands and eventually became a part of the culture, influencing the art, language, and government of native civilizations.

Few know that the step pyramids at La Venta in Tabasco, Mexico, parallel those from Ancient Nubia and Egypt because of Nubian contact with ancient Mexicans, that the Olmec heads at La Venta resemble African men in facial structure and hair texture, or that Negroid skeletons dating back to 1250 AD were found in the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to historian Ivan Van Sertima, author of They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America (1976) and several other linguists, archeologists, botanists, and art historians researching in their respective fields, African pioneers crossed the Atlantic sometime between 800-680 BC.

Though many of us have never hear this information (f*ck what you heard!), this is not news. Nearly 100 years ago, historian Leo Wiener published a booked entitled Africa and the Discovery of Americas, which was immediately met with racially-charged criticism and disbelief. Critics could not fathom Africans doing anything noteworthy, and denied the evidence of Africans in the Americas. Or, when they did accept the evidence, they assumed that those Africans were not explorers, but slaves brought over by Europeans.

Because of their racial reflexes, as Sertima calls them, scholars in academia were blinded by their racist views and failed to accept historical, linguistic, cultural, and biological facts that pointed to a glaring truth of African presence in the Americas.

Sadly, academia has not been purged of this racism—and we spoon feed it to our children. You won’t find much mention of African explorers in your school history books. Our education system is dangerously Eurocentric. Our history curriculums reinforce the same colonial ideas about race that the nay-sayers of academia make: black people are slaves, not explorers. In failing to discuss the ties between African and ancient American history in elementary through college classrooms, we silence truth and give Columbus, Vespucci, and other European explorers credit they shouldn’t fully possess. Leaving this history out of textbooks gives glory to white men, and denies the explorations and successes of people of color.

I’m not saying Africans discovered America. That would be especially ignorant considering there were already great civilizations flourishing before their arrival, and I wouldn’t want to repeat that trend of not giving credit where credit is due. I’m also not saying that Africans were the only ones to arrive. The book also mentions contact with Asians, Polynesians, and other groups. Sertima sums it up perfectly at the end of his book: “all great civilizations are heavily indebted to one another… [and] no race has a monopoly on inventive genius.”

In honor of all the explorers of color, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of They Came Before Columbus or any other book that tells an alternative narrative of black pioneers. If the schools aren’t teaching it, we have to teach ourselves. #KnowYourHistory

#Ferguson Has Changed My Career Path

12 Sep

ACTIVISMIf you’re like me and a lot of other people with emotions, you’ve been upset by the events in Ferguson. Yes I’m still talking about Ferguson one month after the murder of Michael Brown. There’s still a lot going down in Ferguson right now.

Now that the police are no longer wreaking havoc in riot gear, citizens are now filing lawsuits against the Ferguson Police Dept. and the city, community members are demanding answers at city council meetings, and the state government is looking into cases of police brutality all over Missouri.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting comfortably at my desk wondering what I can do.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I want to be more than a writer. I love writing, but I want to do more than raise awareness. I want to be at the center of the change.

So I decided to get off my ass, leave my computer screen for a while, and rethink how I can better participate in the change that is so needed in our society. Lately, I’ve felt called to community activism.

There’s a myth that young black people don’t care about our communities, and that we are too lazy to work for justice and peace. I used to believe that too—until I was introduced to several community organizations ran by mullenials.

They are the ones who will make a difference. They are the leaders—the ones who care enough about devastating racial divides in our nation to do something about it. And with enough care, support, leadership, and hard work—maybe we’ll see a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement (Lord knows we need it).

Sure, I may sound a little idealist—but no one creates any type of change without first believing that it can be done. I mean, if we all thought the situation was hopeless, no one would try.

I want to be among the people that try. I want to be among the people who give a shit and do something about it.

So I’m working toward building the necessary skills to be a successful activist: I plan to join an LA-based community organization, attend Toastmasters meetings (gotta work on my public speaking), study the civil and women’s rights movements in depth to draw inspiration and ideas from their successes, and maintain my eternal optimist spirit.

Yes, I’m a dreamer. But I’m a dreamer with a plan to succeed.

 

P.S.: I want to apologize for the fewer posts. I’m working full-time and going to school in the evenings. It hasn’t been easy. Yet, I do have new writing goals: I’m aiming to publish in bigger publications, like Ebony, The Grio, Salon, The Root, and several other places. My goal is to publish an article once or twice a month. I’m truly sorry about the infrequency—It pains me to even miss a week of publishing on A Womyn’s Worth. But this is only a temporary situation. Soon I’ll go back to publishing once or twice a week. You all can hold me to that.

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