What’s offensive about blackface? Imagine you’re from another planet…

A Hungarian journalist named Balogh Photoshopped her own face onto portraits of black women in an effort to raise awareness of African women and their “secluded cultures.” The project led to widespread criticism.

Let’s use a thought experiment to understand the underlying racism of blackface:

“Imagine that an alien comes down to Earth. She has no knowledge of social or historical context. She is ignorant about race and racism. Her human host shows her the Hungarian journalist’s photos. They mean nothing to the alien. When her host says the photos have caused some offense the alien says, ‘Please tell me the meaning of these images.’

The human explains that on this planet there are some people who are fair-skinned and others who are dark-skinned. All of them are equal. But over time, the fair-skinned group created an economic system that took labour, resources and land from darker-skinned people with little compensation. This lasted hundreds of years and had terrible effects on the darker people and their environments.

The human explains that crucial elements of the system remain in place today. She tells the alien that the people in Balogh’s photos and others in places are doing especially badly and their cultures are at risk of disappearing.

The human tells the alien that by pretending she has African skin, Balogh is drawing on this history. Her images say, ‘Despite our terrible past, we are all the same, it is just our skin that is different.’

During the times when the economic system was at its most cruel, the fair-skinned people invented a form of entertainment in which they painted their fair faces black so that they would look like an exaggerated version of the darker people.

This form of entertainment was called ‘blackface.’ The fair-skinned people said it was just in good fun, but the dark people knew the laughter was at their expense. In fact, the fair-skinned people made a rule that dark people could only be entertainers in front of fair people if they painted their faces black or acted silly.

Now the alien understands why the darker people are upset about the pictures. She asks why some fair-skinned people continue to behave this way – don’t they know their history?”

Source: What’s offensive about blackface? Imagine you’re from another planet…
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