The Oxford Dictionary defines racism as
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races:
prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior
And it’s a definition I agree with. But it’s in the use of this definition that I fail to understand why “blacking up” is such a racist act.
Maybe I’m wrong, Maybe it is. But I don’t see it; is it my age? Some people lived through the civil rights movement, they remember for lack of a better “real” racism, that is segregation, discrimination and violence because of their skin colour. Some people had to live through slowly changing attitudes and having to endure it
But to me these experiences, the things people had to struggle through are so far beyond what I know and have experienced that they don’t seem real. For me, it’s History. Fascinating, horrible but distant. Like, how Ancient Athenians when capturing a City would kill all the men and make slaves of women and children.
In the same way I notice someone’s eye colour, or their hair colour, I notice their skin. I see it, but it has absolutely no impact on how I view a person. It’s just there. And it’s because of this that I struggle to understand why “blacking up”, “ethnic-ing? it up”(Is that even a word) is met with such aggressive condemnation.
I understand that once(long before I was born) white actors “blacked up”, “browned up”, “all of the above up’ed” to portray a derogatory racial stereotype. However, I also feel that just as just as attitudes towards different ethnicities have changed, so to have the motivations behind why people “black up”.
It seems to me, that the desire to perceive offence prevails over the attempt to reflect on racial matters. It goes unmentioned that sometimes “blacking up” can have no racist intent, even if people are determined to detect it.
As long as racial portrayals don’t aim to perpetuate ethnic stereotypes. If people dress up as a person or a character, and in the pursuit of honest and factual imitation do change their skin colour, provided that they are not portraying a generic faceless stereotype; I see no reason why people shouldn’t paint themselves brown, white, black, or blue with yellow polka dots. I see no difference between someone dressing up as Paris Hilton, ( fake tan, throw on a blonde wig and pop in some blue contact lenses) Julianne Hough’s infamous Halloween costume and the four York Students who dressed up a the characters from Cool Runnings.
After all, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.