Beyonce In Blackface: Innocent Or Insult?

Categories: Current Events

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Good intentions are one thing. Perception vs. reality is another. So goes the story with the recent outpouring of outrage and defensive stances over Beyonce's French fashion magazine photo shoot for L'Officiel Paris. The Houston icon used dark brown facepaint to pay homage to her roots, specifically African singer Fela Kuti, whose story and music left a lasting impression on the singer.

But both Beyonce and the magazine's choice of artistic expression has rubbed some members of the African-American community the wrong way. Others have collectively sighed of frustration, effectively saying, "What's the big deal?"

Like will.i.am and British singer Estelle before her, Beyonce's creative expression may have been misinterpreted - but fairly or unfairly is the question. Estelle, who dipped herself in black body paint for a music video, responded to her critics, "I'm black, so how do I do blackface?"

Damn good question.

Beyonce could very well ask the same thing, but the raw nerves that even the appearance of blackface strikes, intended or not, defendable or not, may be too overwhelming for the naysayer.

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"Seeing a person of color put the blackface on, it's like black on black crime," says Tracey Ricks Foster, a blogger for the Washington Review and a blog show radio host of the African-American Literary Review, the only black thought leader to respond to our requests for comment.

For those who slept through history class and want to know the genesis of the hypersensitivity around Beyonce's latest magazine spread, blackface is one of America's many black eyes when it comes to race relations. It's a complex and deep issue, but in summation, blackface minstrelsy - in which white people portrayed blacks in blackface - was one of the first forms of American theatre in 1830s and '40s.

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According to Eric Lott's 1993 book, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, there were comic songs in which blacks were "roasted, fished for, smoked like tobacco, peeled like potatoes, planted in the soil, or dried up and hung as advertisements."

"When you look at the history of blackface and how it was created by Caucasian performers, they characterized black people as lazy, unintelligent, eating watermelons and fried chicken," says Foster. "The real stereotypes that African-Americans have to deal with today were created then and they are alive and well."

But this isn't a time to hang Beyonce on the cross, says Foster. When asked what she'd like Beyonce to do - she still hasn't released a statement - Foster says, "nothing."

"There's nothing she can do at this point," she continues. [The pictures] will always be out there. An apology is not necessary. This is a teaching moment. We don't need Beyonce to release a statement. This is an opportunity to look back at our history and make more educated choices. That's really what it's all about: being sensitive about choices."

Beyonce's latest mini-plight raises a good question, though: When is it OK to put the past behind us and just let artists be artists? It may be the trickiest question there is, because like magazine art may be in the eye of the beholder, the weight and magnitude of injustices are on the backs of their victims.


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7 comments
RJ
RJ

So, I guess it's ok for black Rappers and comedians to use the "N" word and call women "B's" and "W's". I am so sick of these million dollar slaves degrading our community. Let's talk about that!

Big Tex
Big Tex

Some people are always looking for something to get offended over. It's what they live for.

People are stupid
People are stupid

Where is Quannell, or John Wiley Price? This is an outrage!!!! I wonder how many people got paper cuts from pulling out the race card as fast as they could on Beyonce.

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Good article.

Beyonce may have the last laugh and earn the last point given in this old competitive battle about the meaning of minstrel shows and blackface.

Minstrel shows lampooned black people as ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and joyous yet it was learned early on in the labor union movement that white workers behaved exactly the same way with their white supervisors.

White workers excused themselves from acting foolish because they had found the one sure way their white bosses would just leave them alone. Just act foolish and ignorant and the white boss would vanish.

Did black slaves do exactly the same thing with their white owners?

And did the white slave owners actually believe that black folks were that foolish and ignorant?

There is no doubt that audiences at minstrel shows believed in such theater of the absurd.

And now, is Beyonce gathering the last laugh - in blackface - as she asks all those who believe that theatrical nonsense to just leave well enough alone.

Good!

Fatusankoh
Fatusankoh

it is not offence at all is art media and hatters live beyonce i pray god protect you from this hatters you hatters will do anything to hate on bey but you all are not god i wish you all the blessing in the world bey you are loved by god and we your fans

CmonSON
CmonSON

Beyonce is black....

(for example) Angela Jolie is white... had she done this, then there would be an issue

end of discussion.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Congradulation for completely missing the point. It baffles me how someone could read this piece and still get nothing out of it.

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