White Instagram Influencers Have Created a New Form of Blackface
Digital media has spawned a pervasive, elusive performance that’s dangerous to Black culture
They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” an idea that posits that emulation is rooted in a subconscious desire to be someone else and is done in good faith. While the first may be true, when dealing with imitation of culture or the self, the motivations become much more sinister. On the internet, it’s possible to transform into whomever you want and curate your aesthetic without limitations, but what happens when aesthetics can’t be divorced from their cultural importance?
After the Civil War, as the dust from the battlefield was settling, so was the powder setting White actors’ faces with oil, paint, coal, or any jet-black substance found to satirize the newly freed Black Americans. The practice of blackface (or minstrelsy) in America started as a form of “comedy” in the urban North. At its inception, it was viewed as a bonding instrument, as a tool to help mend a “divided nation.” The acts often included songs and vaudevillian plots depicting these larger-than-life caricatures blundering through life, trying to navigate their new freedom. Later, characters such as Little Black Sambo and Amos ’n’ Andy helped to grow the popularity of the art form and cement it as one of America’s earliest contributions to the cultural canon.
It is important to review the history of the issue to reinforce the stakes of blackface on the internet today. It’s important to remember that the foundation of Black Americans will always be slavery. The end of slavery prompted the creation of blackface, and with the modern death of blackface, it has created its own derivative. What it is today is a mutated germ.
It has been some time since blackface has been deemed publicly unacceptable, but that is just the outright comedy routine performed in blackface. Like any racial matter (from slavery to segregation), laws and “public opinion” can only stymie practices for so long. Like any good virus, racial oppression will mutate. It will abandon its old form to inhabit a newer, more palatable one that packs just as much venom. Today, the blackface paint has gone from bottle to the foundation, the…