Is Blackface Racist, Bad Taste or Art?

Pundits are asking whether some folks may be taking this post-racial thing a little too far.

A year after Vogue Italia published an edition featuring all-black models to draw attention to the lack of opportunity for black women on high-fashion runways, the French edition of Vogue put a model in blackface.

An episode of “America’s Next Top Model” took the contestants to a sugar cane field in Hawaii and, after a short explanation of immigrants coming to work in the fields, race mixing and the resulting mixed-raced children, the models were assigned mixed heritages and colorized with makeup to create the images and ethnicities that Banks admitted may not necessarily have been culturally accurate, but were a fashion “interpretation” of what their blends could look like.

An Asian, for example, was dressed as half-Botswanan and half Polynesian.

You get the picture.

Last month, Harry Connick Jr. nearly walked off the set of an Australian TV show he was guest-judging when a group parodying the Jackson Five came onstage in blackface. Two months ago, a lead character in the hit, 1960s-set drama “Mad Men” performed a song in blackface.

Is it racist, bad taste or a bit of artistic license?

Gazelle Emami, writing on The Huffington Post, said Banks went from over the top to offensive with the lastest stunt.

“Call it what you want, but that’s basically a euphemism for putting them in blackface,” Emami wrote.

But others disagreed.

“I don’t see this as blackface,” cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis told in an e-mail. “Perhaps a little lacking in substance, like why didn’t each model have to research the cultures or at the very least have a ‘mood board’ of images of the cultures they are interpreting, which most seasoned photographers and editors do? But, alas, this is reality TV and a new photographer, though not new in fashion.”

Davis, in an opinion piece for, said the real post-racial news is in the power that First Lady Michelle Obama exhibits as a fashion icon and how it turns the table on how black women can now be viewed.

“Much of white mainstream identity has benefited from and counted on black women being portrayed as sick, poor, ignorant, abused and sexually deviant or just a loud, hot ghetto mess. Our pitiful position secured, and in some ways created, their position on the pedestal. What now? Is it really time for the white standard of beauty to step off?” Davis wrote.

“When the identity of an entire culture and industry is dependent upon the negation or the degradation of the beauty or even existence of another, (there was not one featured black model in Vogue‘s historic September 2007 issue, its biggest ever) what happens when that very image is dominating media all over the world? What happens when a society addicted to the image of white women is faced with the inevitable existence of Michelle Obama representing many other women like her?”

And while Mrs. Obama no doubt is helping change many folks’ definition of black womanhood, there are still images out there making it hard for black women to be seen at all.

“I feel like we’ve gone backwards,” Susan Gordon Akkad, senior vice president for corporate marketing for Estee Lauder Companies, Inc., said of Vogue’s decision to put Dutch model Lara Stone in blackface.

There are fewer black models on the runways and in fashion magazine spreads, yet, Akkad said, there was a time when black models were designers’ muses.

“There was Naomi (Campbell) front and center; there was Veronica Webb,” Akkad told

“Part of it is the way models are cast is different. They are chosen by casting …..


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