Apparently there's some popular confusion regarding blackface, brownface, and various other forms of white people mimicking people of color via crude facial makeup and stereotypical panache.
The latest, outrageous blackface scandal is courtesy of Paula Deen's son, Bobby, who painted his face brown in costumed "tribute" to Ricky Ricardo, the Cuban-American bandleader and husband from I Love Lucy. Paula Deen tweeted the family photo, in which she is dressed as the titular Lucy, wife of Ricky. The incestuous undertones of this family portrait are not lost on me!
Anyway, for the record: blackface is offensive, insidious, and bad. But you knew that already—right?
Throughout our very own comments sections, and all across social media in general, the #WellActually consensus is that blackface is cool because White Chicks exists, and brownface is even cooler because it's like, totally different from blackface. Oh boy.
Briefly, a few points here:
- Nick Cannon isn't some beloved comedic genius that everyone's desperate to defend;
- Nor is the Wayans Brothers' White Chicks some unimpeachable film;
- Nor is Nick Cannon alter ego Connor Smallnut some paragon of pro-black satire.
If anything, the real insult here is that such concern-trolling about "whiteface" reliably cites Nick Cannon as dudebro Connor Smallnut rather than Dave Chappelle as Hip-Hop Newsbreak anchorman Chuck Taylor, the real MVP of American whiteface.
In any case, the general distinction between the two forms is that blackface is, literally, the theater of white supremacy in the U.S., a genre of entertainment that was created to popularize and enforce the dehumanization of Africans in the 19th century and beyond. Brownface is likewise dismissive of races that white empires variously colonized and decimated for several centuries. In contrast, "whiteface" is a defensive, generally silly and harmless method of taking the piss out of white men and their ridiculous haircuts.
Nick Cannon has, in fact, demonstrated a reasonable appreciation of all this daunting historical context, having told Good Morning America last year that blackface "is about oppression, "while 'whiteface' is 'a ski slope in upstate New York.'"
Indeed, if you search "whiteface" on Twitter, the results include many photos of white people hiking that mountain while overdressed. Such photography is, in fact, the whitest possible search result for a term that's about as incisive as White Chicks, for sure.