Blackface is used to ridicule and dehumanize black people by making the roles be stupid or perform idiotic actions — and not only white people do it. All of these groups perform blackface, which occurs when a non-black person plays a black role for humorous or satirical reasons, and culturally appropriate black culture and get away with it, Asian and Latinx people especially seem to get a pass. Beyond the clearly offensive blackface, Black cultural appropriation would include wearing cornrows, box braids, Senegalese twists, dreads, bantu knots or twists, dashikis, afros, and other things used or worn by black people with cultural ties.
Of course, we all know about the cultural appropriation that white people do. The Kardashian-Jenner family get away with perhaps more cultural appropriation than any other high-profile figures. Kylie Jenner is the American queen of cultural appropriation. The Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge shows how white women can get away with things like cultural appropriation and society doesn’t even bat an eye. The challenge included sucking a shot glass for a few minutes to get big, pump looking lips, which is a feature found in predominantly black people, which blacks are mocked for having. Jenner finally got some backlash after she posted a picture of herself in cornrows on Instagram, which throughout history, black women were demeaned and ridiculed for wearing.
But it’s not only whites who do it. Even though most people would be surprised to see Latinx as a group of people who appropriate black culture, there has been a lot of anti-blackness in the non black-Latinx culture. There have been many cases of black face in the Latinx community, especially in the entertainment business. The Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, who used to be a comedian, did black face. Esta Noche Tu Night, which is a show on Mega TV, has many blackface characters and one of the most notable characters is Yeyo Vargas, who is an Afro-Dominican, played by Carlos Marrero. Marrero also plays a bullfighter on Esta Noche Tu Night with very dark skin, whose suppose to be from Haiti. Jorge Benavides, a Peruvian comedian is also known for the blackface roles he plays. He plays “el Negro Mama,” who is a thief and mischievous person in many of his skits, who’s supposed to be a black person, and his catchphrase is “Podré ser negrito, pero tengo mi cerebrito,” which means “I may be black, but I have my little brain.”
It’s not just foreign comedians, of course. Cornrows have suddenly become all the rage in Latinx culture. And, maybe even worse, I know a lot of Latinx kids at my high school who feel perfectly allowed to drop the n-word. And no matter how many times I tell them not to say it, they do anyway, and their excuse is “But I’m not white.”
Korean Music, including K-pop and K-Hiphop (Korean pop and Korean hip hop) has many artists that culturally appropriate black people, but many of them get away with it because their non-black fans talk over black people who try to get the artists to stop doing what they do. Jackson Wang, a member of the Kpop group Got7, was called out for cultural appropriation after he changed his hairstyle to dreadlocks for a photoshoot for a Chinese magazine and his response to the whole situation probably worsen the whole problem.
Wang’s excuse for his hairstyle was, “I made this decision because I was too in love with the culture. No matter if it’s music wise, people, background or anything, and I truly respect it with my heart. It’s a complete misunderstanding,” which had fans confused as to whether he was apologizing or justifying why he should be allowed to wear dreads.
Many people immediately took his side saying they don’t find the look offensive–but almost none of those people were black, and made excuses as to why Jackson Wang, an Asian person who is not of African descent, should be allowed to have his hair however he pleases, since it’s “just hair.”
Another artist is Truedy, a Korean, whose real name is Kim Jinsol. She performed blackface and culturally appropriated blackface throughout the whole season of Unpretty Rapstar Season 2 and got away with it, until international fans called her out for trying to look black. Truedy tans her skin to look darker than the typical Korean, get perms to get thick hair and wears cornrows like the typical black person. Truedy and Jackson Wang think they can wear something that people who were born with have to struggle with having, and take it off whenever they feel like, and both their fanbases encourage them by saying they look trendy, cool, or other excuses instead of teaching them to not wear other people’s culture. There are many other Korean music artists who’ve also done blackface and/or cultural appropriation in the past such as Kai of EXO, Zico of Block B, G-Dragon and Taeyang of Big Bang, Gayoon of 4Minute, CJamm, Bobby of iKon, Rap Monster of BTS, and many more.
Some people will say that wearing their hair or clothes a certain way is not cultural appropriation, but cultural appreciation. There is, however, a very clear line between the two, yet people try to make it seem like there’s a grey area between them. The only way to appreciate a culture that you are not part of, is to travel to a country where the people around you dress or look a certain way.
Blackface does not always have to be as straightforward as painting your skin black, it can be tanning your skin and dressing like the stereotypical black person.
People fight to justify cultural appropriation when in reality they are justifying the fetishization of black culture and black people.
This piece was produced by a student journalist in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and support our educational programming, visit madison365.org/academy.