It is the 21st Century and People Are Still “Blackfaceing” For Halloween!?

by madeleine.pepiot on October 18, 2015 - 2:35pm

            Eternity E. Martis wrote the article titled “What It’s Like to See Blackface on Halloween as a Women of Color” published on October 27th, 2014 on the Huffington Post.  This article discusses a personal story that Martis experienced on Halloween of 2012 when she was attending a university Halloween party at a trendy bar.  The author explains that she went to the party with two of her close friends, who like herself, are of color.  Martis noticed three people with their white faces painted black wandering over towards her and her friends.  The author goes on to explain that she was outraged and quite frankly horrified at the sight.  The three “blackfaced” students stopped right in front of Martis and her friends; they were dressed as cotton pickers.  Martis proceeds to explain that the three students had their faces painted mud-black in an extremely offensive way, with rings of white skin showing around their blues eyes.  She immediately called them out for their costume of choice; repeatedly questioned what their problem was for thinking that this was okay to do.  To Martis’ surprise, the three students stood there silently with horrible grins plastered on their faces, starting her in the eye.  The three never answered Martis’ several pleas for an explanation, and simply walked away.  With Martis’ blood boiling, her eyes followed them through the crowd.  The trio then went up to another group of colored students and did the exact same thing.  Martis concludes by explaining that she realized what their silence meant; by failing to talk back, it only enhanced their “costume”, as talking back would have been prohibited as cotton pickers of that time period. This forced her to see herself in their costume.  

            My jaw hung open as I read through this article.  I could not wrap my mind around the fact that people have the audacity to do such a thing that clearly meant to poke “fun” at a very serious, sensitive, and heart breaking time in North American history.  Slavery is not something to be joked about, and it is definitely not something that a Halloween costume should be modelled after.  As Audrey Smedley, the author of “Race and the Construction of Human Identity”, discusses in her article, the ideology of races and racism first began around the 1620’s and can be traced to the British colonies which is now the southern part of the United States.  Once there was a shift in the social division system; firstly being religion and langue, then becoming skin color; millions of African slaves continued to be brought over to the British colonies in order to be sold and bought to work in unimaginable working conditions; many of which were on tobacco plantations, as well as cotton plantations.  Millions died from being worked to death, abused, and from starvation.  This part of our history is very dark, and extremely sensitive for many people in our society.  I think it is absolutely outrageous that someone would dress up in a costume that is supposed to represent this.  I agree with the author and feel as though this is an extremely racist act, seeing as though it stems from the exact period where racism first evolved.  I believe the author was rightfully appalled by this costume, and reacted in a very appropriate manner.  Martis told her story in a clear way which added to the strength and impact of the story. 

 

References

Martis, E. E. (2014, October 27). What it’s like to see blackface on Halloween as a women of  colour. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/eternity-emartis/blackfacehalloween_b_60508...

Smedly, A. (1998, September). “Race” and the construction of human identity. American Anthropologist 100(3), 690-702.

Comments

I find your topic very interesting and this is why I’m commenting on your post. We had discussed this the same topic in class and I found it very interesting how costume companies can put out costumes that may offend people, or even how people can wear such offensive costume without considering others. Halloween is purposed to be fun, not controversial. I this article, I find, shows that racism is still present in today’s society. These students dressing up as cotton pickers is very racist in my mind, as it’s a direct reference to slaves. They painted their faces black as well which is totally unacceptable, but even without painting their faces, dressing like a cotton picker is just down right racist. In my opinion the painted faces pushes it to the extreme though, the black on their faces can be seen as a mockery of their skin color, and that’s the definition of racism “a system in which one group of people exercises power over another group on the basis of skin color and other physical traits” (Henry and Tator 2000). The students with their faces painted black and the rings around their eyes to show their white skin reminds of the old black and white Disney movies from the thirty’s that Disney now tries to hid due to their racist content, films such as Mickey’s Mellerdrammer and the Night Before Christmas. Now do you think that if someone wears a costume like this they can be charged and fined. We live in a society that believes its politically correct so why not? Also do you think that costume companies should be more sensitive to what they sell to the public, such as Indian costume Samurai costumes and more?