There was a collective squirm and shriek felt throughout the Internets last night. Did you feel it? Here's why. Nick Cannon put on white face to promote his new album, White People Party Music. He's posted photos and videos of himself made up to look like a white guy: Pale complexion, blond hair, beanie, flannel shirt. No big deal! Just a black man in white face, kind of playing with ya. Heh ... right? Except it's infuriated a lot of people and he's getting slammed as a racist.
Okay, let's talk about why a black man donning white face is vastly different from a white man donning black face. First, we start with a few pretty basic premises. Are you ready? Okay, here we go.
- Black people have been discriminated against throughout American history.
- White people have been in a position of power relative to other ethnic groups throughout American history.
- There is a power imbalance that still exists between the two to a certain degree.
Now, if you don't agree with the above, then we really don't have anywhere to go in this discussion. (SIGH.) But if we can agree on these, then the rest of it follows.
Wearing black face is mocking a group of people who have less power and fewer resources than you do, who still carry the legacy of slavery on their backs. SLAVERY, people. And there's a whole history of white people using black face to demean black people for over 100 years.
Wearing white face is mocking a group of people more powerful than you, who are often in denial about the privileges that come with having white skin. It's saying, "Remember when you made yourself up to look like me? And it made us feel a certain way toward you? Well how you like me now? Feels weird to be on the other side, doesn't it?"
White face has been used by other comedians for satirical purposes. I'm thinking, in particular, Eddie Murphy's "White Like Me" short on SNL.
Nick Cannon responded to the backlash, saying, "It's funny how people take themselves so seriously. People love drama! We feed off of it. Just relax and have fun!!" We could take that at face value, but I want to believe Cannon is savvier than that. He knew his stunt would be provocative -- that's why he did it. I think what he's really doing is parroting back the exact same thing people say in defense of black face. Oh relax, it doesn't mean anything, it's just for fun, you're addicted to drama.
If anything, Nick Cannon is starting a potentially interesting conversation. That is, if we're up for it. If we can bring our brains and hearts into it. Or people can have the usual thoughtless knee-jerk reactions and move on. It's up to you.
What do you think of Nick Cannon's white face stunt?
Image via nickcannon/Instagram