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The Non-Issue of “White Face”

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March 25, 2014

A few days ago, singer, songwriter, and actor Nick Cannon took to Instagram to promote his upcoming album “White People Party Music” by donning a white persona he calls Conner Smallnut. While some fans thought Cannon’s impersonation was on point, others took to their keyboards in protest, claiming that Cannon’s actions were ignorant, racist, and hypocritical.

As a black person I have to admit that I occasionally forget how easy white people seem to get their panties in a bunch over fear that they are being victimized by racism. It continues to boggle my mind that this is a true worry for many white people, because it’s so clear that these people do not grasp the concept of racism.

Racism is about power. To be racist the targets must be people who have, historically and continually, lacked power, property, or value. To be racist, the perpetrator must have power to subdue the targets in some way, whether that be physically, legally, mentally, financially, etc. Taking this definition and placing it into a real life example it becomes clear how absolutely idiotic the concept of “reverse racism” is.

For a man of color, like Nick Cannon, to be racist against white people a series of things is required to happen. First black men would need to imperialize the world. They would need to reconstruct the histories of every other nation to be told from the stand point of black men. Black people would need to tear white families apart and force them to assimilate to a culture they are not familiar with. Black people would need to build an economy based on the concept of whiteness being subhuman to justify enslaving them for over four centuries. Then black people would need to convince the world that whiteness is a thing to be ashamed of. Little white children would need think themselves ugly because of their pale skin and white women would bear the tragedy of institutionalized rape.

Can we see how farfetched and actually insulting the concept is?

This is why Nick Cannon’s “white face” is a non-issue. Sure, it could be argued that his methods were a bit brash and inappropriate by some. But to make claims that his act was racist? Absolutely incorrect.

In a country where a renowned black singer is making the same as some white dentists? Yeah, I don’t think so. In a country where a man became famous for shooting and killing a black child? I don’t think so. The reality of the situation is this, the lasting effects of “White Face”? A couple pictures and maybe a good chuckle. The lasting effects of black face? The continued presumption that blackness is a costume for whiteness to pick up and don whenever they feel inclined, but then turn around and declare unacceptable and “ghetto.” The reinforced idea that being black is trope and for black people to be acceptable they must be as white acting as possible.

To be frank, I feel that the people who are offended by this need to pull their heads out of their asses and understand the historical context that they have created for black people to live in. The actions of whiteness over this nation’s history have made it deplorable to wear black face. And it is an absolute luxury that white people do not have to be so clearly reminded of that every day. But as a black woman, I know that luxury does not extend to myself or people who look like me. We carry it and our identities as a burden because we cannot afford to forget our histories when there is so little of it left.

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2 Responses to “The Non-Issue of “White Face””

  1. Carl

    If a white person were attacked or murdered by a non-white person simply out of racial hatred, would that act–or at least the motivation–not be racist?

    Please know that I’m asking this question sincerely, Kayla, and am not wanting to be contrarian merely for the sake of being contrary. I hope you have a moment to respond.

  2. Kayla

    Hi Carl,

    Thank you for reading my post and taking time to comment with your question. I genuinely appreciate it.

    To answer your question, I suggest we reexamine our use of the word “racist” in this context. There is no doubt in my mind that if a PoC attacked a white person because of their skin color is would be racially motivated. However we cannot confused these two terms: racially motivated and racist. They are very different and have very different influences in the grand scheme of the already racist society we live in.

    In short, no. The situation you raised, I do not believe, could be called racist. It could be called other things: racially motivated, prejudice, discriminatory. However for an act of violence to be racist it would need to encourage the absolute anti-black, anti-brown sentiments that exist in American society, and that has existed in our country since emancipation.

    Thank you again for your comment! If you have more question please do not hesitate to post a comment.

    – Kayla C.