The act of applying burnt cork onto a white face during a minstrel show to disseminate a negative image of enslaved blacks first arrived in the American imagination in 1830 when Thomas “Daddy” Rice, blackened his face and danced a jig while singing “Jump Jim Crow”.
Fast forward 183 years and blackface is once again a modern event, only now most of those engaged in updated instances of blackface paint over their prejudices with more than just cork: now they use an invisible white paint called privilege.
Earlier this week an image surfaced online of 25-year-old William Filene and 22-year-old Greg Cimeno (two white males from Florida) dressed in Halloween guise as Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman respectively.
Rubbing black greasepaint into the face of his untimely death, Filene and Cimeno disfigure the memory of a murder still fresh in the American psyche via an ethnic parody that shows Filene blatantly imitating Trayvon and latently emulating the conduct of Zimmerman, because behind the criminal aesthetic of burnt cork and his bloodstained hoodie is yet another racist white male fully culpable for a hate crime.
After the bullet and Zimmerman’s acquittal, this parody sees Trayvon Martin killed a third time by a white male. In fact, every time Trayvon is the punchline in some pathetic parody it champions his murder by endorsing the actions of the murderer.
Speaking of murder …
The art of imitating black music and dance and assuming the dialect of the enslaved for the entertainment of the masses means that events such as the MTV Video Music Awards on 25th August 2013 have become the modern day minstrel show whereby mainstream (white) artists exhibit monstrous racial stereotyping to perform as a parody of their crossover (black) peers even going so far as using black persons as props to drill home the derision.
Earlier this week Miley Cyrus dressed up as Lil Kim for Halloween. When images of the cross-racial impersonation surfaced the 20-year-old white female, who has been accused of being everything from anti-female to anti-black in the wake of that infamous performance, was championed for paying homage to the Hip Hop culture she so clearly craves by championing a 39-year-old female rap icon.
Without the VMA performance, the undercurrent to Miley Cyrus’ costume choice would have been a simple projection of fantasy; a repressed urge to emulate her female heroine, but the misuse of the black female body as a prop during that performance and a series of ensuing unnecessary evils means the decision to caricature a costume worn by Lil Kim at the VMAs 1999, is more than an expression of subdued Southern sexuality, in white females, as some might suggest.
“In my past life, I feel like that was me, I feel like Lil’ Kim is like who I am on the inside. She just makes me happy listening to her music.”
Close analysis of this statement reveals that Miley does not champion Lil Kim, rather she steals her sexuality (I feel like that was me). In doing so she assassinates Lil Kim in the same way white supremacists have spent centuries assassinating blacks with blackface, exploiting black women and infringing on blacks the way Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (allegedly) infringes the copyright on Marvin Gaye’s superior 1977 hit Got To Give It Up.
Effectively, it is a rape of realism. The black female form is unlawfully penetrated, parodied and pillaged by Miley proving that black females still need to be guarded from the yearnings of white female supremacy as much as they do from the longing of white male supremacists.
Every time a white female dons an afro, dresses up as a black woman at Halloween or stuffs her bra and shorts during a tennis match and exercises her privilege in this way it removes the rights of the black female over her body through ridicule. The sexual liberation of the white female cages the black female in the historically deviant image of her as a licentious whore. So not only is the black female deformed so too is her progress. This constant allusion to blackness is not a harmless homage, it is as destructive as it is problematic. And yes … we can take a joke … as long as we are not the punchline.
A shocking display of minstrelsy, Blackface is an ancient trick that has now become a contemporary cross-racial prank played by those who can erase their blackface as easily as Miley erased Lil Kim and Zimmerman erased, with a gun, an unarmed black male.