Blackface disgrace

Provocation and jarring costumes came out of one fashion designer studded event.

The organizers of an ‘African disco’ themed Halloween party, called “Hallowood Disco Africa”, issued an apology over Instagram regarding their distasteful and insensitive appropriation of blackface as a Halloween costume.

Famed fashion designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua and Dolce and Gabbana’s Stefano Gabana as well as actor Julianne Hough stunted black face paint as part of a horribly misguided costume decision.

Alesssandro, specifically, wore minstrel makeup. Yet, his costume is particularly problematic as it implicitly promotes the negative historical connotations of black minstrels as lazy and dim-witted.

Evidently, partygoers assumed that an African-themed party qualifies for liberties in painting their faces black or donning slave chains – an arbitrary and unacceptable decision that holds implications on the way in which a tasteless incompetence permeates a crowd of influential fashion industry professionals.

The host’s desire to celebrate African culture and its influence in the design and fashion world becomes eclipsed by this ignorant gesture.

Whether the intention was to offend or not is hardly the point – as such costumes continue to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

Party organizers should have recognized the symbolic economy blackface holds as historically rooted in the oppression of African Americans. Only after a backlash from the public and various magazine editorials did the party organizers issue an apology and actor attendee Julianne Hough expressed her own apology over Twitter, a few days following criticism and accusations of racial discrimination and insensitivity.

I wish I could bemoan my surprise – but that would be a lie.

The fashion industry unfortunately is an institution that continues to participate in differing forms of insensitive racial activity. Their treatment of blackface is just another misfire that places them outside any culturally sensitive community.

There are those fans, however, that come in defense of this soiree and its costumes: some say that Halloween is an acceptable occasion for dressing up – and that other minorities dress up as minorities in the fun and spirit of the occasion. However, wearing something like a sombrero – a symbol of national and cultural Mexican celebration – is hardly similar to wearing blackface.

This excuse is hardly informed about the real tragedies and cultural resonance of blackface entrenched in a systemic power diminishment of African people.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the fashion world has shown an ignorant fixation with blackface.

Vogue Paris’s Lara Stone and Vogue Netherlands’s blackface editorial endorse a similar provocative view of painting one’s skin as simply an aesthetic trend. Similarly, V Magazine – perhaps to boost sales during a troubling recession – opted for an untactful and telling blackface editorial.

This decision really brings to the forefront the question: why paint a white model’s face black – instead of simply hiring a black model?

If you’re endorsing your appreciation of black aesthetics and darker skin tones then why not go for the real thing, and also promote your inclusivity of minority models.

Those that simply write off blackface as artistic are sadly steeped in a systematized internal racism that prevents them from separating the art from its context.

Whether in magazines or at private parties, it’s a given that we shouldn’t be tapping into a hateful past filled with mocking racial images that belie our understanding of artistic production and costume.

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