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luann de lesseps blackface
courtesy of Instagram/@countessluann

Blackface is not up for debate

TextAlex Peters

Another Halloween, another year of reminding people that blackface is still not OK

Despite Halloween still being a couple of days away, there have already been numerous incidents of white people who still haven’t learned that wearing blackface is deeply racist and totally unacceptable.

Over the weekend a man on the tube made news for his Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction inspired costume which included dark face paint and an afro wig. When confronted by another passenger, a black woman, over the blackface, the man shrugged and denied there was a problem. Elsewhere, a nine-year-old girl in Limerick, Ireland also made the news due to her Mo Salah costume where she donned an afro wig and fake tan to emulate the Egyptian football player, for which her mum hired a professional makeup artist.

These incidents come after a news anchor in the US faced backlash over her comments concerning blackface. During her morning show on NBC, Megyn Kelly held a roundtable discussion debating the appropriateness of certain Halloween costumes. The all-white panellists touched on wearing sombreros and dressing as Native Americans before Kelly said about blackface: “But what is racist? Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface...back when I was a kid that was ok, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”

Kelly then went on to defend Luann de Lesseps, a star on The Real Housewives of New York who came under fire last year for her Diana Ross costume. “She made her skin look darker than it really is and people said that that was racist,” Kelly said. “And I don’t know, I feel like who doesn’t love Diana Ross? She wants to look like Diana Ross for one day. I don’t know how, like, that got racist on Halloween.”  

Following the outcry over Kelly’s comments, her show Megyn Kelly Today has been cancelled. In a statement from NBC News, the network announced her show would not be returning and next week “the 9 am hour will be hosted by other Today co-anchors.” Kelly has since made an on-air apology, stating, “I learned that given the history of blackface being used in awful ways by racists in this country it is not ok for that to be part of any costume... this past year has been so painful for many people of colour, the country feels so divided and I have no wish to add to that pain and offence.”

The history of blackface goes back to the 1830s when white performers would put on exaggerated costumes and dark makeup to mock slaves in minstrel shows. These portrayals, set in the context of a society that dehumanised and systemically demeaned and abused black people, magnified the worst stereotypes and reinforced the idea that black people were inferior. In the UK, The Black and White Minstrel Show ran on BBC up until 1978.

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