Blackface: In 2012, blackface is still popular around the world from Japan to the Netherlands
This might be a paranoid assumption, but for the fact that in Spain blackface is still a popular tradition during the raucous carnaval celebrations held in the spring. “Being black” is a super-easy costume to create for Halloween; plus, blackface is the perfect way to mock black athletes competing in Spain as well. Yet, Professor Jaime Durán, a native Spaniard and professor of Spanish language and culture at Temple University, tells theGrio that there is no malice behind this culture’s love of “playing” black.
“There is no offense implied,” Durán insisted. “Most people in Spain still do not see anything wrong in painting one’s face black, or sense it as racial or racist.”
However, given that Spain’s formerly homogenous population is now 10 percent of color due to immigration, it is slowly beginning to seep in that blackface isn’t a benign and innocent practice. “For the last decade there were fewer and fewer painted Balthazars in Kings Day parades, and more and more genuinely black African folks [playing the parts],” Durán said. He sees this as a sign of evolution. “By being exposed to new realities, Spaniards are slowly but steadily learning how to deal with [a more diverse society].”
Japan is another country where the lack of diversity in the population means the use of blackface is hardly challenged. In this nation, blackface and black sambo images are a part of every day life. You don’t even need a holiday. On television shows, YouTube videos and even on the streets, Japanese people have been known to both celebrate and mock African-Americans by using blackface.
But, says, Dr. Fabienne Darling-Wolf, a professor at Temple University with a specialty in Japanese popular culture, Japanese people also don white make-up and wear tape on their eyelids to make fun of white people. So are the Japanese equal-opportunity racists?
“It’s complicated,” Darling-Wolf told theGrio. “It is an accepted practice in Japan for Japanese celebrities or models to take on the identity of a black person, just like it is an accepted practice for them to take on any racial or ethnic identity.” But as it relates to the usage of derogatory images of black people either with blackface or sambo figures, once again it’s hard to point a finger — especially when America itself may be the source of the international community’s prejudiced ideas about African-Americans.
“These images are completely divorced from any historical or cultural context,” Darling-Wolf said. “And because what most people know about African-Americans come from the U.S. media, there are a lot of stereotypes about African-Americans — both positive and negative — circulating in Japan.”
So, what does this mean for black Americans? Should we be up in arms over the fact that an offensive practice we fought hard to abolish is still acceptable, and dare we say popular, in other parts of the world? Or refuse to visit countries where blackface still reigns supreme? Is it even fair to view blackface through the lens of political correctness in countries where black people make up only a small fraction of the population?
Perhaps if black people traveled more internationally, people in other countries would be transformed by the recognition that real black faces are gateways to living, breathing individuals unlike their painted versions.
Lori L. Tharps is an author, journalist, college professor and mom. Her book, Hair Story, “contextualizes, demystifies and explains the significance of Black hair in American popular culture,” according to her web site. Follow Lori L. Tharps on Twitter at @LoriTharps.