Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Black like me
October 27, 2006 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm white. The character I am dressing up as for Halloween happens to be black. Face paint?

I think most people will understand the costume regardless of my skin color.

However, would it be beyond the pale to paint myself black? (My face and hands, basically.) I see arguments for both sides of this, but I want your opinion.

Why should I, or why shouldn't I do this?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (71 answers total)
 
Sure. But don't forget the white paint around your lips. I mean, if you want to be a minstrel, go all the way.
posted by dame at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2006 [2 favorites]


I've tried it before (I went as Storm for halloween once). It didn't work. at. all. Basically, it looked like crap and I ended up getting black paint all over everything I touched. Unless you're gonna go all the way and seal it somehow, I would not reccomend it.
posted by muddgirl at 9:58 AM on October 27, 2006


no....people will not look at the costume as a whole. Their initial gut reaction will be "omg, racist bastard showed in blackface". Just go without the paint if people will still recognise your character.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2006


I wouldn't do it. It's in poor taste and some people will never think of you the same way again (I would guess, though, that how widespread that goes will depend on where in the world you live). Plus, it's gonna get all over everything.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I mean, if you were really OK with doing this, you wouldn't have posted as Anonymous, now would you?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2006 [6 favorites]


Face paint, in addition to being messy, will turn the costume into "you-as-pretending-to-be-black" rather than "you-as-character," assuming your friends are at all intelligent and culturally aware. Appropriating symbols of oppression is tricky enough when you're trying to "reclaim" or redefine them; in this instance, it seems not only offensive but also just bloody silly.
posted by occhiblu at 10:02 AM on October 27, 2006


There was a Family Guy episode featuring an A-Team look-alike contest. Peter's team won because they were the only one with a B.A. character who was actually black. None of the other teams shown were in blackface.

In short, if Family Guy won't touch it, you don't want to try it either. People expect that show to be offensive. You're just trying to wear a costume. If you add a potentially (extremely) offensive element to your costume, you're going to alienate people and perhaps get yourself in a fight.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:14 AM on October 27, 2006


Agreed, don't do it. Halloween costumes are not meant to be realistic (not that black face is realistic). If you can't be identified by your costume alone, find another character to go as.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:14 AM on October 27, 2006


I'd wager that pretty much everyone who has ever thought their version of blackface wouldn't offend anyone has wound up sorry.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


If makeup could be applied such that a person would actually be mistaken for another race, would it then be offensive?
posted by unmake at 10:16 AM on October 27, 2006


Let me chime in that I've seen someone try blackface, and I still feel sick about it to this day (it was a lip-synch contest a church function 5 or 6 years ago- one I didn't attend, thank goodness- two guys dressed up in black face, afro wigs, and flags from African countries and did the Shaggy song "Girl You're My Angel". Ugh, it was so awful).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Fairly or unfairly ("blackface" v. legitimate costume), very little good could come from you doing this. Another vote against. Even if you are merely trying to dress up as a character (and I have no reason to doubt that you are), there's too much negative history and emotion bound up with the situation for it to go down well. Maybe in another few hundred years....
posted by modernnomad at 10:27 AM on October 27, 2006


It was offensive at The Friar's Club for chrissakes. If that's not an indication, I don't know what is.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:28 AM on October 27, 2006


This is a tough act to pull off, even if you're Ted Danson at a Friar's roast, and your (girl)friend Whoopi Goldberg wrote your bit. But, hey, lotsa luck, and extra points, if you try it unarmed, and live to tell the story.
posted by paulsc at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2006


Why couldn't this person paint themselves using the ordinary makeup that black women use, like foundation or whatever it's called? That wouldn't be considered blackface, would it?

The question isn't asking about blackface, but about looking black. Makeup might get him/her the skin tone to fit the character s/he's portraying.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2006


No no no no no. Seriously, no. No. Don't do it. No.

Someone will be offended. Whether that's fair or not, it will happen. Whether you can see both sides or not, at least one person will see only one side, and that's the side that says you're a racist ass. Halloween is not the time to get into a fight about whether you're a racist. Don't do it. Ideally, pick a different costume altogether. Non-ideally, no blackface. Really. There is no debate here.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 10:38 AM on October 27, 2006


Don't do this, unless you're a racist prick who wants to invoke a hundred years of racism as a personal mission statement, in which case you'll achieve your desired effect.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:39 AM on October 27, 2006


My friend was going to paint his face black a few years ago to go with his costume. He was on the fence about it too until I asked him how comfortable he'd be if he ended up getting trashed and thrown in jail with that on his face.

Another vote against, not to mention it is almost impossible to apply realistically. I painted my face white one year and it was a mess! You would seriously hinder your abillity to shake hands, eat, or drink without it getting over everything.
posted by Ugh at 10:43 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


paulsc: I can't believe we found the same exact link. Big Google is watching us.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:47 AM on October 27, 2006


Another vote for "no." It's going to be offensive anyhow and not for unfounded reasons. This issue is bigger than you are, whether you think it's fair or not, no matter if your intentions are absolutely innocent and pure.

Go as a ghost instead.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:48 AM on October 27, 2006


Why couldn't this person paint themselves using the ordinary makeup that black women use, like foundation or whatever it's called? That wouldn't be considered blackface, would it?

Yes it would; in fact, that's just what blackface is- using something to make yourself look black when you are not.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:48 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


Poor was your planning
when instead of blackface you
should have gone tanning
posted by poppo at 10:54 AM on October 27, 2006


please don't do it
posted by matteo at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2006


What if anonymous is going as a ganguro?
posted by mimi at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2006


Yeah, not such a good idea to do the blackface. When I was in high school (1984), we did a production of Finnegan's Rainbow and as I went to an almost-all white school, there were no "suitable" kids to play the characters that were written as black. I'm horrified to report that my sister and I BOTH were cast in "black" roles AND that we wore dark make-up, on the advice of the theater dude, to make us look black. We did not look black; we looked like the Scottish-German kids that we were with lots of bad makeup on and to this day I'm completely embarrassed about it. And every night we had to wash the black/brown hairspray out of our hair and we got the gross makeup on everything. How anyone that it was okay to let us do this is really beyond my comprehension.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:03 AM on October 27, 2006


Not to sound totally la-la about it but there are degrees to this. You can go to the drugstore and find foundation in every imaginable shade. I think there is probably a degree of makeup you could apply which might take the edge off your whiteness without looking like "blackface."
posted by scarabic at 11:06 AM on October 27, 2006


If you want to look a little darker, you could use one of those lotions that makes you a little tanner every day. I use the Jergens Natural Glow and it's great.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:08 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


What ugh said. Unless you are telporting to and from the party (maybe you are hosting?) do you really wanna go around in public in blackface? Your friends, who are clever like you, will understand the subtle irony. What about the guys hanging on the corner who mught want to beat your ass just for sport?
posted by fixedgear at 11:14 AM on October 27, 2006


One more vote for Bad Idea, at one factory I worked at two of the office girls tried it and it seemed insensitive and tastless.

"I'd wager that pretty much everyone who has ever thought their version of blackface wouldn't offend anyone has wound up sorry." I think mc lo-carb is right and I am hardly a PC thug about this stuff.
posted by Iron Rat at 11:14 AM on October 27, 2006


Oops, I meant office persons.
posted by Iron Rat at 11:15 AM on October 27, 2006


Would it be beyond the pale to paint myself black?

Heh.

I wouldn't do it. --ThePinkSuperhero

Heh heh.

I'd wager that pretty much everyone who has ever thought their version of blackface wouldn't offend anyone has wound up sorry.

Some people get away with it.
posted by designbot at 11:21 AM on October 27, 2006


I just want to agree with everyone else and say that this is a bad idea. A REALLY bad idea. The fact that you're even considering this leads me to believe that you don't anticipate any African-Americans at the party you're going to, but what if you get a ticket on the way to the party, and the cop is African-American? Or maybe you have to stop for gas or need your car towed. I'm not saying that this is only offensive to African-Americans (I'm white, and I'm offended), but just imagine what it would feel like to be in blackface and encounter a black person. And TPS is right--you already know this is a bad, offensive idea, otherwise you wouldn't feel it was necessary to hide who you are by posting anonymously.
posted by gokart4xmas at 11:27 AM on October 27, 2006


This isn't a black and white question - har har - it completely depends on context.

If you're not a racist and amongst friends who know this, they'll take it as you parodying the grimness of blackface, not as you being a culturally insensitive idiot.

If you're going to be at a more public party, then, no, probably not a good idea, and you risk getting your head kicked in.

(I chickened out of, er, browning up for my 7/7 suicide bomber costume last year, but when I got to the party found three or four folk had had the guts to black up, plus one black bloke dressed as the ghost of a black & white minstrel, ie in 'whiteface' - brilliant. In a very PC/right-on/left-wing context, all this was fine, if often in extremely poor taste.)
posted by jack_mo at 11:28 AM on October 27, 2006


And WTF are the arguments in favor of this?
posted by gokart4xmas at 11:29 AM on October 27, 2006


That's what I'd like to know.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:34 AM on October 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


People won't see your intentions, only your black face. Best not risk it.
posted by JigSawMan at 11:34 AM on October 27, 2006


When Darrell Hammond does Jessee Jackson on SNL he just has some ever so slightly dark makeup on. Not saying you should do it.
posted by starman at 11:40 AM on October 27, 2006


AskMetaFilter: I'm white, and I'm offended.

I'm lending my agreement toward those who suggest you simply buy a foundation that's a little darker than your skintone. You're not trying to bowl people over with your "blackness", you're simply trying to downplay your whiteness. Be subtle, use a foundation 3 shades darker than your skintone, and be relaxed about it. The people shouting "OMG BLACKFACE" are probably not envisioning what you are envisioning.

However if your costume involves having your arms and hands etc. visible, don't do it. Not worth it.
posted by hermitosis at 11:46 AM on October 27, 2006


If you're not a racist and amongst friends who know this, they'll take it as you parodying the grimness of blackface, not as you being a culturally insensitive idiot.

I don't think that's the case. Plenty of people might know their friend wasn't racist but might well still think he was being a culturally insensitive idiot.

Don't do it.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on October 27, 2006


I'm a white guy who went as Don King one year, and even though not too many people got the costume, I never thought of going in blackface for the reasons listed in this thread.
posted by thewittyname at 12:02 PM on October 27, 2006


As a woman who has used foundation, I just want to point out that foundation used in this way is still messy as hell. The reason they tell you to pick a foundation close to your own skin tone is in large part because you can't cover all exposed skin (neck, ears, into hairline, let alone hands) without it being sloppy and messy as hell. It's designed to be lightly applied to a face, not to every inch of available skin, and it will still get all over your clothes. Even the heavier pancake make-up that I've used when acting tended to get all over costumes, and even with that I wasn't putting it on my hands.
posted by occhiblu at 12:08 PM on October 27, 2006


Bad idea. Your intentions have little to do with why. Find another costume.
posted by Opposite George at 12:09 PM on October 27, 2006


Stella on blackface, where you have a quintessential example of an ironic, hip, intelligent (well maybe, maybe not) use of blackface. Anyway look at the comments, if you still want to go as blackface after that. Well you got a pair of brass ones on you.
posted by geoff. at 12:10 PM on October 27, 2006


Rent the movie Soul Man and see if you still think it's a good idea.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:34 PM on October 27, 2006


Unless your costume is Al Jolson

or Eddie Cantor Don't!
posted by Megafly at 1:01 PM on October 27, 2006


No. Explain with "color-free casting."
posted by klangklangston at 1:06 PM on October 27, 2006


I don't believe it's as horrible offensive as people are making it out to be. Every single year in high school, there'd be at least one guy in greasy brown make-up and a bad afro wig whose costume was simply,"black guy." I considered going as a white person one year as the antithesis(I'm not black, but brown).
I'm not saying it's particularly tasteful, and I agree that if it's not necessary to your costume, it should be nixed, and you'll look better without it than with it. But if you did decide to use it, you would not be the only person that Halloween who did it.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:14 PM on October 27, 2006


no. no. no. best case scenario: your costume becomes "black guy" instead of whatever it was meant to be. which is not particularly "best" in any sense of the word. worst case scenario: see previous 47 posts.
posted by sonofslim at 1:21 PM on October 27, 2006


I think there is probably a degree of makeup you could apply which might take the edge off your whiteness without looking like "blackface."

Like they did for the cover of Christina Aguilera's Spanish album.

First album cover for contrast. It's much more striking if you look at the actual physical covers, but these images show it a little.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:07 PM on October 27, 2006


No, don't do it. When I was in elementary school (c. 1984), my class lip-synched to We Are the World. I think every kid in the class was white. Those of us portraying black artists put on facepaint. My family didn't have enough money to pay for brown paint and I was going to put on *black* paint, but a nice kid lent me some of his. Probably because his mother had told him I couldn't go on stage that way. No one said anything about the face paint. But this was a pretty hick school in a small town in a part of Canada where there were very few people who were not white. When I looked back years later, I realized that this was rally akin to putting on blackface. Yet no one said anything -- we were dumb kids and someone could have corrected the error of our ways. And no one had any trouble with the finale for the lip sync contest. A black boy did Just a Gigolo to David Lee Roth's voice and no one expected him to have blonde hair or whiteface. And that's the kicker. If you weren't white and you were playing a white artist, would you put on whiteface? Most people wouldn't.
posted by acoutu at 2:37 PM on October 27, 2006


Canadian here. This didn't really strike me as offensive; I guess it's an American thing?
posted by Count Ziggurat at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2006


I don't get it (but thanks for the wikipedia link) So, it's not offensive to put on dark makeup and look black by itself--it's just that there's been history of folks using it for denigrating stereotypical portrayals, and that history is what makes it offensive?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:16 PM on October 27, 2006


But if you did decide to use it, you would not be the only person that Halloween who did it.

If they decided to shoot somebody, they wouldn't be the only person who did that, either. I don't think that's really the issue. And that guy in greasy brown make-up and a bad afro wig whose costume was simply"black guy"? He was a fucking moron whom no sentient human being would want to emulate.
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2006


it's not offensive to put on dark makeup and look black by itself--it's just that there's been history of folks using it for denigrating stereotypical portrayals, and that history is what makes it offensive?

To a large extent, yes. But also I would say that assuming that the character's race is so important that it has to be mimicked is a way of reinforcing the idea that blacks are completely different from other races and that difference can't be ignored; and also that assuming that race can so easily be mimicked by putting on some make-up is offensively dismissive of how complicated race is in the US. I realize those are contradictory, but race in the US is a complex topic. Which is why it seems ridiculous to make it an issue at a Halloween party.
posted by occhiblu at 3:38 PM on October 27, 2006 [2 favorites]


I don't think it would be as drastic as some people are saying, but I think it would be difficult to pull it off well.

We should be clear that "blackface" is a specific, exaggerated style, with a very negative history and enduring stigma as a derisive caricature. The guys in the You Tube video and the wikipedia entry are in true blackface. Sounds like you're trying to look convincingly and realistically like a black person, sort of like the opposite of the movie White Girls, which nobody seemed to have a problem with, which is a different thing.

But still, refer back to my first point. Even if you're trying to look convincing, I think the odds of it working are not good. People are too sensitized to racist issues. Some wouldn't give a crap, some wouldn't be sure whether they were obligated to object to it, and some would just flat take it badly even if they didn't interpret it as "blackface". It would depend on the crowd, but I say the odds aren't favorable. Probably they'll have a drink and get over it, but it won't be the home run costume you're looking for.
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:52 PM on October 27, 2006


NO. people WILL get offended, even you're motives are pure and innocent. this is a bag of worms not worth delving into.
posted by gnutron at 4:07 PM on October 27, 2006


it's not offensive to put on dark makeup and look black by itself--it's just that there's been history of folks using it for denigrating stereotypical portrayals, and that history is what makes it offensive?

Yes. That's why when Dave Chappelle dons 'whiteface', it's funny. When a white man dons 'blackface', it's not. Some decry this as a double standard, which to some extent it is, but it is a reflection of a historical reality which one would have to be foolish to ignore.

Dangerously close to chatfilter, but when I lived in Japan I saw some TV skits with Japanese in 'whiteface' (complete with rubber big noses). I never took offence, but that's because there's no comparable denigrating 'whiteface' history there as to 'blackface' in the US (I'm not American, so correct me if I'm wrong).
posted by modernnomad at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2006


gokart4xmas: "And WTF are the arguments in favor of this?"

It's a fucking costume, and it's the 21st century. I'd do it just to troll the closet racists.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:47 PM on October 27, 2006


If you're around people so shallow as to get offended by a white person dressing as a black character, you need to move or find some new friends or something...
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:53 PM on October 27, 2006


No. It wouldn't be a good idea to paint yourself up as black for a Halloween costume.

The act of painting yourself black is too loaded with negative cultural significance to make it worth doing just for a fun Halloween costume.

Like people have said above, even if you did it in total innocence or some kind of hipster irony, even if you tried to do it realistically and not exaggerated minstrel-style, you just don't know who you might run into over the course of the night and who might take offense. Not to mention that you might make your friends uncomfortable to be seen with you.

Read this blog post for someone's perspective on encountering a guy in a blackface costume: Bamboozled: All Up In Yo Black Face with Blackface. The costumed guy was being an antagonistic tool, true, but the point is, you've just got to be sensitive and think about these things. It's not worth putting yourself on the defense and possibly ruining other people's Halloween nights just for costume authenticity.
posted by cadge at 6:13 PM on October 27, 2006


Canadian here. This didn't really strike me as offensive; I guess it's an American thing?

My family (American) and I were once eating dinner in a restaurant in a resort town in Alberta, and the staff was having a Caribbean-themed party after the dinner service. Then a female manager came in, dressed in costume (I think the idea was "Jamaican woman" or something like that) and she was wearing blackface. Our jaws all just dropped a little bit, but we assumed that it wasn't (as?) offensive in Canada.
posted by anjamu at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2006


I would suggest doing it another way or not doing it at all - a compromise like tanning lotion that would look acceptable in public without the costume, or a rubber caricature mask if such a thing is commercially available. But not facepaint.

Growing up far away from the Americas, I don't personally understand the hullabaloo surrounding black makeup, but I understand that there is enough negative preconceived notions surrounding it to not want to risk messing with it :)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:20 PM on October 27, 2006


("rubber caricature mask" meaning caricature of the actual person the costume is meant to be, not caricature of the race, eg like those various Bush/Clinton/Some Celebrity masks)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:35 PM on October 27, 2006


It's a fucking costume,

I've never liked this line of argument. It's a summary dismissal of the issue at hand without even an attempt at understanding the different feelings involved. Would it be just a "fucking costume," Mr. Gunn, if someone decided to go as a dead US soldier?

and it's the 21st century.


...and as everybody knows, in this modern age, racism has completely been eradicated, justice reigns supreme, and blackface chic is in. Gosh we mefites are behind the times.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 9:15 PM on October 27, 2006


Would it be just a "fucking costume," Mr. Gunn, if someone decided to go as a dead US soldier?

Actually this is not a bad idea. You can simultaneously make an interesting political point (if you are going to that sort of party) while covering it under the guise of Halloween-esque "zombie"-ness.
posted by modernnomad at 5:05 AM on October 28, 2006


war wrath of wraith: "It's a fucking costume,

I've never liked this line of argument. It's a summary dismissal of the issue at hand without even an attempt at understanding the different feelings involved. Would it be just a "fucking costume," Mr. Gunn, if someone decided to go as a dead US soldier?

Yes. It's still just a costume. If the guy isn't trying to make some kinda statement, rather just wants to take a crack at a Snakes On A Plane costume, then go for it. I wish I could feel so self-important as to need to get a stick up my ass about somebody else's costume.

and it's the 21st century.

...and as everybody knows, in this modern age, racism has completely been eradicated, justice reigns supreme, and blackface chic is in. Gosh we mefites are behind the times.
"

Apparently not in all places, judging by the attitudes expressed here, but let me just add a data point for New Orleans. There will be people dressed as Our Mayor, and people will laugh when they see him. See, when things get to a certain point, laughter is all you got left. Laugh, motherfuckers!!!
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:08 AM on October 31, 2006


Blackface wouldn't make you look black, just weird. Even when professional make-up artists try to "turn" white people into black people for reality shows or vice-versa it's not very convincing. I'm a white girl going as Lt. Uhura from Star Trek for Halloween. I think anyone who's seen an episode of Dork Trek is going to be able to grasp who I am from the costume. After all, it nearly impossible to look exactly like the person or thing you're pretending to be no matter what or who it is. Go for the essence of who you want to be rather than an exact replica.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:28 AM on October 31, 2006


Geez... what's the big deal? If a black guy wore "whiteface" and dressed up as George Bush or superman or something, would anyone be offended?

It should only be offensive if it is insensitive. If I wanted to be Michael Jackson for Halloween I'd darken my skin -- ok bad example.

If the point of the "blackface" is to mock the race then yes it is in bad taste and racist. However, if you are dressing up as (as one poster mentioned) Don King, Blade or some other recognizable black character or person then it's not "blackface" it's a costume.

If I was going as the Hulk would I not paint myself green?
If I was going as Homer Simpson would I not paint myself yellow?

It's the same thing here. Unless, as I wrote, the point of the costume is to mock or degrade.


"...idea that blacks are completely different from other races and that difference can't be ignored..."

Mellow out. I am assuming this costume is not a social statement. There are differences between "blacks" and "whites" -- that doesn't mean one race is better than the other, but there is no denying that "black" people tend to have darker skin and vice versa.

I guess no one can go as a witch for Halloween because it could offend the wicka.
I guess no one can go as a monster because we can't offend someone who has a deformity and could be offended, or automatically assume they were being mocked.
I guess we can't go as a warewolf because people who are real hairy would assume we are making fun of them and get offended.

Give me a break and stop being so overly politically correct.
posted by SupaDave at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2006


I think the arguments against it being messy are stronger than the PCness. Although I'm all for being sensitive and agree that it may cause more problems then it's worth, I'm an idealist and like to think the intentions behind the costume should overrule this.

However, if your character and costume is strong enough then you don't need to darken your skin up and can avoid any potential mess altogether. I know a (white) dude who went as Tyrone Biggums (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chappelle's_Show) and it was hilarious. He didn't need face paint, the strength of the character came through his costume and his actions.
posted by thejrae at 11:59 AM on October 31, 2006


You can try spray on tanners (as others said, only about 3 shades darker than you) and after spraying it on either use hair spray (a bit sticky) or something like the MAC +fix (I swear by that thing, full makeup all day looking great) to make the spray stay. good luck!
posted by pixygoblin at 3:51 PM on October 31, 2006


Go as a ghost instead.

Just make sure your sheet's not pointy on top.
posted by billtron at 8:11 AM on November 7, 2006


« Older I always have bloody poop afte...   |  Just got my first eye prescrip... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.