It’s almost 2016 and we’re still having to explain why blackface is wrong
After the incident last year when two University of Pretoria students wore blackface to a party, one could assume we would all be clear on the fact that blackface is racistÂ and shouldn’t be worn. Sadly, oneÂ Wits medical student still hadn’t gotten the memo. PONTSHO PILANE explains.
It seems to be the same script everyÂ timeÂ -Â a group of students decided to throw a party (this time it was themed Under the African Sky) and one of them thought dressing like a domestic worker while wearing blackface would be a good idea.
Medical student Shari Weinstein initially uploaded the pictures to Facebook but deleted them after her classmates called her out on condoning the racist actions of her friend.*
A 4th or 5th Wits Med Student not knowing that #BlackFace and making mockery of domestic workers are offensive? WTF is that?
â€” Justice Lephalalaâ„¢ (@JLephalala) November 8, 2015
2015: A black domestic is seen as a character, like Aladdin, depicting the role of the quintessential black person in SA? How do we sleep? â€” Mpazi Siwale (@Mpazz1) November 8, 2015
Winstein offered an apology saying that she had posted the pictures “in all innocence” and that â€œsome of the pictures may have offended peopleâ€.
Based on the wording, it seems she still doesn’t really understand why what she did was wrong. So, once again, here are three reasons why blackface is, and always will be, a no-no:
1. History actually matters
Melissa Steyn, professor of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, describes blackface as â€œa visual equivalent of a racist jokeâ€. Blackface, started in American minstrels shows in whichÂ white people would perform in blackface, portrayingÂ black people as lazy and playing up perceptions of black people as sub-human for the sake of laughs.
2. Itâ€™s about humiliating black people
Blackface is based on the notion of making black people look inferior. It is a performanceÂ that often exaggerates certainÂ features of black people, as whenÂ the UP students stuffed pillows into their pants.
3. Black lives are not a costume
ItÂ seems the go-to representation of black people by the students involved is always that of a domestic worker. (In the 2014 incident at UP, the students also dressed as domestic workers.) These university-going young adults are surely exposed to a variety of black people every day, including classmates and lecturers,Â yet they choose to impersonate domestic workers for laughs. It is clear that these students do not see black people beyond those inÂ subservient roles.
In short, blackface is and will always be wrong. Do. Not. Do. It.
And while you’re at it, don’t post pictures of other people doing it among theÂ happy snaps from your party. In fact if someone turns up at your party wearing blackface, tell them to get some perspective and go wash their face.
* A previous version of this story implied that more than one Wits med student was involved in the incident. This has been corrected.