In light of US racial tensions, has blackface returned?

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The current US protests seem to have resparked the infamous use of blackface on social media across the world, a practice with deep-rooted racist connotations.

Poster of Billy Van advertising his show and depicting a blackface in 1900 (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA/STROBRIDGE & CO. LITH)

Poster of Billy Van advertising his show and depicting a blackface in 1900

(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA/STROBRIDGE & CO. LITH)

From social media influencers to celebrities around the world, many have turned to black makeup, known as “blackface,”  a practice with deep-rooted racist connotations, in an effort to show solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement.Blackface refers to a situation that involves a non-black person darkening their skin with paint or makeup in an imitation of a black person. The practice has a long history in the US and can be traced to the late 19th century when white performers would use shoe polish or burnt cork to darken their skin and then portray African Americans in a humiliating way.

The trend has been popular among Arab celebrities, who, in an attempt to support and show solidarity with protests in the US over the recent killing of George Floyd, have been publishing photos of themselves with black face paint. 

Many have openly criticized the phenomenon. The involved celebrities however, responded by doubling down, with some insisting that racism is a Western phenomenon and that it does not exist in the Arab world

Dear Arab “influencers” this is not like every other trend you blindly jump on for the sole purpose of attention only. This is a fight against racism that black people face, so before you put on a blackface ask urself, how desperate are you to go that low pic.twitter.com/p4EUv0SqCe

— Abood Hamadneh (@Hamadneh901) June 4, 2020

Algerian singer Souhila Ben Lachhab posted a picture of herself with black makeup and a caption that read: “Just because we are black on the outside, doesn’t mean that we are black on the inside. Racist people are the true black heart ones. They are black on the inside, though they do not know it.”

— Tania Saleh (@TaniaSaleh) June 1, 2020

Commentators pointed out the racist undertones of her message, with one user commenting: “What the f*** is this? This is truly disrespectful, you’re doing BLACKFACE.”

The singer did not address the criticism unlike Moroccan “influencer” Maryam Hussein, who when confronted about the historical connotations of her blackface image, said: “I don’t like stories or history. I’m a person who lives in present time. Past is Past.”

Racism in the Arab world is clouded with a complexity that distinguishes it from the Western model to some degree. Prophet Muhammad is recorded to have said that “neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white, except by piety.”

Although popular among Arab celebrities, the current US protests seem to have resparked the infamous use of blackface on social media across the world.

A 16-year-old social media influencer from Austria, who goes by the username “catharinas_beauty” on the video app TikTok, is being criticized online after having posted a blackface video of her appearing with black makeup, apparently in a failed effort to support racial unity.

“This TikTok just ended racism,” Siraj Hashmi of the Washington Examiner tweeted to his 54,700 followers about the post. In a separate tweet, he added: “I’ve seen a lot of performative virtue signaling done on social media in the last few days. This has to be, by far, one of the worst things I’ve seen.”

In an attempt to explain herself, the 16-year-old wrote on her Instagram page that she “only wanted to send a message against racism, but I did it wrong, I’m only 16 and have to learn much more about the world history.” 

As the US protests spread globally, more cases like these have surfaced, raising questions of awareness to issues of racism and sensitivity to others.

Will this resurfaced dialogue, sparked by the support of individuals across the world for protesters in the US, encourage new manifestations of racism or perhaps help raise awareness to the appropriate sensitivity one should deploy when facing and even supporting others? 


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