Friday, September 22, 2006

Blacking up: it's racist!

I meant to post something about this yesterday. Yesterday, while in WH Smith buying my copy of the Guardian I happened to catch the Independent out of the corner of my eye and was appalled by the front page. It was of Kate Moss blacked up. What was Indie thinking of? Trying to be clever? Being chic? No, it is being utterly racist and offensive. Hannah Pool in today's Guardian makes some powerful points:

"What exactly is this picture of Moss-as-African-woman supposed to portray? I suppose it is meant to be subversive, but what does it say about race today when a quality newspaper decides that its readers will only relate to Africa through a blacked-up white model rather than a real-life black woman? What does it say about the fight against HIV/Aids if that is the only way to make us care? And, as a black woman (born that way), what does this trick say about me?"

Why couldn't the Indie have used a picture of a Black woman? Again Pool argues (rightly):

"And you know, there really are black women who could have done this job. Next time a photograph of an African woman is needed, they should call on Iman. Call on Alek Wek. Call on one of any number of black girls you can see on the street. Call on me."

Worryingly, it does seem to me that blacking up is back in fashion especially by "comedians". The list is growing with various individuals like David Walliams and Matt Lucas from Little Britain. Charlotte Church blacked up in a sketch on her new show. Others include the piss-poor Bo' Selecta and even Rory Bremner shamefully blacks up as Trevor MacDonald. I mean, watching Laurence Olivier as a blacked up Othello still sends chills down my spin as it is offensive and the god awful Black and White Minstrels Show. I assumed (wrongly) blacking up had been consigned to the racist dustbin of history.

There is also an appalling racist festival which happens in Padstow, Cornwall during xmas and the New Year called, "Darkie Day", where inhabitants black up. In 1998 Bernie Grant, the late black Labour MP for Tottenham, condemned the tradition as "offensive to black people all over the place". But it still happens.

It seems to me that the politics of understanding oppression (I would also say sexism and homophobia as well) has fallen by the political wayside. I am shocked when I see comedians and other "entertainers" black up. Don't they understand the political message they are conveying? Or don't they care because it is all harmless fun. Harmless fun at the expense of people experiencing oppression in this society. Yeah, what a laugh!

When I first became politically conscious in the 1980s the fight against oppression was on the political agenda along with liberation politics overall. It was at the forefront and it had an integral part in educating people. Well, things seem to have changed for the worst and it is depresses me that a so-called liberal paper like the Indie can publish a blacked up Kate Moss.

NB: I was going to use the frontpage of the Indie which showed a blacked-up Kate Moss to advertise this post but I changed my mind. I wanted to show instead a vibrant, dynamic, strong and heavily influential Black woman and she is Angela Y. Davis.