But what’s the problem with blackface? It’s repeated usage in entertainment and media, even extending to impersonation and exaggeration of black culture in reaction gifs, would suggest widespread societal acceptability. Award winning British American comedian Tracey Ullman who was recently commissioned for a new series with the BBC has a long history of impersonating black and brown people in a mocking way which plays on their race as the butt of the joke, and yet continues to lead a successful career both in the UK and across the pond. However, despite society’s continued ambivalence to this dehumanizing hobby, there exists a wealth of history which makes the often seemingly innocuous trend, offensive.
Blackface is the use of “Make-up used by a non-black performer playing a black role.” The practice which gained popularity in the 19th Century is part of a long tradition of cultural mimicry, which in the 1800s took the form of the blackface minstrel show. Early white performers would use burnt cork, grease paint and later shoe polish to temporarily darken their skin tone. Throughout the 1870s through to the 1940s “Darky” iconography would frequently adorn the covers of sheet music. Brands such as the French Banania continue to use such iconography, their packaging featuring a young black boy with bright red lips reminiscent of the widely condemned British Golliwog.