Blackface: A Trend in Politics and Beauty
Now that summer has officially landed, stocking up on bronzers and self-tanners feels almost customary among the beauty set. And while a lovely golden sheen whether real or enhanced by products can be a delightful summer addition to one’s look, there seems to be a troubling trend in both beauty and politics: blackface. You might not think that these incidents are linked, but our culture’s pervasive attitudes towards racism and cultural appropriation are all at play here.
There’s a fine line between embellishing one’s natural tan and full-on changing one’s skin color, and lately it seems like beauty influencers are having a difficult time differentiating between the two. Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian have both been criticized for this in the past, to little effect. In late 2018 into early this year, beauty influencers began to jump on the bandwagon in disturbing ways, making it clear that this is an accepted practice in the industry.
This past fall, Teen Vogue covered the “blackfishing” phenomenon taking over YouTube and Instagram, where influencers would use hair and makeup styles to look like people of color. Swedish model and YouTuber Emma Hallberg came under fire after followers realized that she was not in fact a Black woman, but a white woman using foundation that was significantly darker than her skin tone. Despite the fact that she was called out for this last year, she continues to present herself as a person of color on her social media channels.
French YouTube star Shera Kerienski botched an attempt at calling out the makeup industry about its lack of diversity by wearing dark foundation, effectively in full blackface, claiming she did not know that blackface is offensive. It seems incomprehensible that people wouldn’t understand why blackface is racist, but one needn’t look further than Megyn Kelly’s firing last year for reinforcement that white people are still claiming ignorance on the subject.
And lest we disregard colorism within Black and POC communities, in 2017, Black YouTuber Ronkeraji swapped makeup with her darker-skinned friend for a unique spin on this troubling trend. It turns out that Ronkeraji was not the only one participating in what became dubbed “makeup switching” and most of these videos were disgracefully played for laughs.
As if the beauty industry didn’t have enough race issues to begin with, the blackface trend has added a whole other layer of problematic behavior. It’s an especially glaring offence when the actual industry has so much work to do to make itself inclusive and accessible for people of all skin tones. The offense is manifold: the people taking part in blackface are blatantly disregarding the racist, painful history of blackface and perpetuating racist stereotypes. In the case of influencers like the Kardashian/Jenners or Hallberg, it appropriates a marginalized culture’s style – making it acceptable for white women while it is still stigmatized for people of color.
Heartbreakingly, this is not a problem limited to the beauty industry. Remember last year when it seemed like politicians were coming out of the woodwork left and right admitting to having used blackface in the past? There is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to educating the general public as to why blackface is so offensive.