When Blackface Isn’t Blackface

Kylie Jenner

OMG. I cannot believe the backlash against this photo.

Blackface? REALLY?

First of all, this doesn’t look like blackface to me. There was/is nothing remotely pretty about Blackface. It’s a very ugly crude caricature of what are supposedly typically “Negroid” features: dark skin, bigger lips and nose than European features…it’s ugly, because those features were perceived as ugly.

Nowhere above do I see anything that suggest Racial Caricature. (And I am wondering if half of the Black people who saw it as Blackface would really have seen it that way if a Black person hadn’t retweeted the photo in such a way as to suggest that Kylie wanted to be Black; leading the witness, as it were.)

Not to mention – and this is an incredibly important part – Kylie Jenner said she WANTS TO LOOK LIKE THIS. In other words, she herself finds this beautiful. Would she be saying that if this was meant to be ugly?

Come on, Black people. Pick your/our battles with a little more discernment. This is just ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous that Zendaya, who is friends with Kylie Jenner and initially responded positively to the photo, tweeted another response that she was glad people checked her on her response because she hadn’t seen it the way they saw it but now she realizes that we all need to be aware of the picture we put out there.

The reason you didn’t see it that way, dear Zendaya, was because there was nothing to see. But you caved to bullshit backlash instead of standing your ground. That’s sad. Even if you accepted that other people could interpret this picture differently, you could have pointed out that you didn’t see it that way and that your own response was a valid one too. But you caved. I gave you props for how you handled the Giuliana Rancic faux dreadlocks debacle but I’m taking my damn props back. Come on. Where the hell is your spine?  Do you think you actually have to pander to the Black community THAT much to maintain the street cred you got from the faux dreadlocks mess? Come on.

Racism is rampant in the US and in the world. I make no pretense otherwise. But we do ourselves a disservice when we start chasing ghosts and creating problems where none exist; we are essentially channeling The Boy Who Cried Wolf when we start crying out about shit that isn’t real. By the time  the really offensive problems DO occur, it’s “oh God, there go the Black people again complaining about shit.” We have SO MUCH to complain about and worry about! We want to add THIS?  I’m QUITE familiar with the history of Blackface, and I’ve even called attention to contemporary and very offensive portrayals of Blackface in my own community. I saw this photo and the idea of Blackface didn’t even occur to me until I read what others were saying. Unlike Zendaya, however, I don’t have an epiphany moment of realizing how this can be offensive. The only epiphany I am having is that people apparently like to have shit to complain about. Newsflash: there is enough racial hatred there that is real and harmful and dangerous, without creating boogeymen that don’t exist.

I think this photo is beautiful, in a very sci-fi fantasy sort of way that goes beyond our usual racial constructs and makes me think of aliens and Avatar and things very futuristic. That’s what I see…the future. Unfortunately, too many other people are so stuck in the past that they look at this and see the ghosts of an ugly time. And that’s sad, because we can’t keep claiming to want to move forward while staying mired in quicksand of our own making.

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