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October 14th, 2009
06:15 AM ET

Art 'offending' life – Is blackface ever okay?

French Vogue magazine is famous for pushing the fashion envelope.

A photo spread in this month's edition has triggered outrage in Europe and the U.S. over a white model posing in blackface.

Is it high-fashion or just highly offensive?

So what do you think – Is blackface ever okay?


Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (145 Responses)
  1. Ashcan

    Is BF ever ok? NO!

    Blackface has racist origins, it was/is in fact a WEAPON used to demonize blacks and it was used to justify slavery and encourage racism onto American blacks. Fred Armisen is NOT white, therefore he gets a pass, just like Carlos Mencia, since whites invented it for hateful reasons, whenever whites do BF it is suspect, it's as simple as that. Lately, the defenders of BF have pointed out that if a white person is made up to look more or less like a normal black person such as in Tropic Thunder that that is fine.......WRONG! It is still BF, with just a better makeup job, but the origins are still the same. What about White Chicks the film and White Chicks 2? White face does NOT equal black face, they have very different histories behind them, one racist, the other not racist.

    The defenders of BF like to point out INTENT, but remember, it is intent vs impact. BF is AWAYS a BAD idea.

    December 13, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  2. Ben

    If the statement here is colour is of no object.... then fine. Did Vogue have pics taken of Black Women as White woman as a contrast? Now that would be more acceptable. Mind you I would'nt say it is the same as the Cole-face Blackface racism shown throughout history.

    People have been harping on about Wayans White Chicks. The film was crap. So much so I could not even take the time to take offense. Looking from a wide perspective, it is nowhere near the same as "Blackface". Oh and before you make any comment ... I am mixed race.. part Jamaican part English.

    To see understand and see racism is in itself an education and I have witnessed on both sides. Thankfully in the UK majority on both sides do not have racist views just a minority in my experience.

    People are lacking LOVE in this world. Love is blind of the colour of ones skin colour. Time to meditate on this thought instead.

    November 3, 2009 at 7:37 pm |
  3. Charles J

    Im guessing since blackface is back, lynching will be back soon too :-(

    November 3, 2009 at 2:40 pm |
  4. Tony

    This is NOT blackface. Now I understand that stereotyping is usually negative. However, there are positive stereotypes; blackface not being one of them of course. I don't totally understand what's considered offensive but I do know that sometimes people overreact to certain stereotypes. I'm just saying.

    October 17, 2009 at 11:01 pm |
  5. tammy

    I didn't see the magazine, but on the internet saw the magazine opened viewing the two opposing pages. I looked at the photos hard with the idea that photography is art and tried to make sense out of the semblance. I saw that two pages opposite each other in placement and in looks/ both with the same model as the subject. First photograph- the model was unrealistic exaggerated colorless white, the background solid black, her legs-arms all positioned outward. Second photograph opposite the first featured the same model appearing with brown skin against a white background, arms and legs all are closed.
    Are readers suppose to view the two opposing pages and see something? Is this supposed to be viewed by looking at the two opposite pages?

    October 17, 2009 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Andrea

    Scott .............. get a grip and think before you post your answers/questions.

    October 14, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  7. Dee Dee Bowers

    My response to the question, "Is blackface ever okay?", is that it's absolutely never okay. We, as human beings should live by the golden rule of treating other's as we want to be treated. If any race or ethnic group could be hurt by images in the media, wherein it would be taken as sensative or offensive historically, then it should not be done. Ultimately, I wish that we will extend a healthy sense of humanity to people of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

    October 14, 2009 at 8:46 pm |
  8. Mari

    White Chick was a parody of people like Paris Hilton, ignorant rich girls. It was not all whites and it was not blackface. The Wayans brothers were making fun of a small social stereotype. Not a whole race.

    October 14, 2009 at 7:33 pm |
  9. David

    Is Blackface OK? I guess that question should be posted to Fred Armisen who consistently does President Obama in dark makeup. I guess since Obama is not really a dark black, but more of a light chocolate black, that makes it ok. Get a grip. We don't hear the press griping about Fred, perhaps we should.

    October 14, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  10. Janet

    Oh but its ok for the Wayans' brothers to make a movie painted as white chicks and made fun of. And how about the movie where Beyonce's sister kept calling Hayen P white girl in some cheerleading movie. How come when a white person does something regarded as negative towards black or any other race it gets slammed. But if another race does it-its ok. There is some serious double standard going on and its seems to be getting worse.

    October 14, 2009 at 6:29 pm |
  11. claudia

    This is very very offensive. I will never respect or buy anything from Vogue again. You dont have to take a white lady and make her black you can get a african woman or an african american to pose black. What are they trying to say. That theres no beauty with any of us. This Vogue magazine needs to be shut down. Every race of color should never promote this kind of junk and stand up against such copies.

    October 14, 2009 at 5:38 pm |
  12. five dimensional

    What would have been really cool would to have been to have her with five different colors; Ivory, yellow, red, brown, and black on different parts of her body or integrated on her face in a random pattern. That would have represented all of us correctly. They will learn. They just did not go far enough with their initial idea of community.

    October 14, 2009 at 5:12 pm |
  13. Jimbo

    Wow – I had no idea some (and I do mean some) black people are that thin-skinned.

    October 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  14. James Donovitz

    No one made any comments while Michael Jackson was endeavoring to look white. Runway shows are more than displays of garments, they are a combination of art, glitz, and grandiosity. If everything that says black, implies black, or borrows an occasional black slang word is racist, why are there no all white universities, or CNN coverage if a black person uses the word cracker. Blacks have played all the race cards in the deck, now the only thing left are the jokers.

    October 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm |
  15. jay m

    Unlike the movie White chicks, blackface has an ugly racist past, that was meant to humiliate Black people.

    October 14, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  16. Maggie

    Since most in the modeling industry consider themselves artists with a vision, looking to push the boundaries of art, I don't think that it was anyone's intention to offend. I understand the arguement of "they should have just hired black models" however, if the vision was to make someone look like they were someone else, that arguement doesn't stand.
    Besides, a few seasons ago America's Next Top Model had an episode where all the girls were dressed like a different race/culture, Black, White, Eskimo, Asian, etc., and no one made a big deal about that.
    While there still is a lot of racism in the world, I think that sometimes people are overly sensitive and read too much into things.

    October 14, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  17. Steve Montroy

    Maybe it's because I am Canadian. Maybe it's because I am a GenX'er...But this is ridiculous! It is quite obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense and artistic intelligence to see that this was simply a "BLACK & WHITE" themed shoot. For many if not most of us out there. Race would not even in the top of our minds, if African-Americans didn't keep bringing it up...for the most part without merit. From my observations, the only people keeping the "Black man down", are the African-Americans who crave the attention they get in the media. I don't even know anyone my age, who cares one bit about race. Wake up, it's 2009 and you have a colored President of the United States! Quit being a victim and start acting like victors.

    October 14, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  18. Beverly

    You guys are conflict provoking! Jesus says "Be thou not offended, so why are you?" Since imitation is the best form of flattery, are you offended that a white model wonders how she would look @ a black person? Should white Americans be offended that American black culture has taken ownership of our President? Which half of him is offended @ this story? Artistic license seeks art appreciation @ well @ critique. I think the people of the world are very oversensitive, on purpose...sympathy seeking, conflict causing instead of solving.

    October 14, 2009 at 3:48 pm |
  19. Brittaney

    Ok here’s the deal. When I saw this story this morning I was shocked. Not shocked that a photographer shot a white woman painted black but shocked that people were making a big deal out of it. The photos where an artistic expression and I believe they should be treated as such. This morning they brought up classic blackface which no doubt portrayed black people in a way that is offensive. But this is a totally different situation entirely. The pictures were not intended to be offensive at all. The photos showed a “black” woman in tribal inspired attire and as strong and beautiful. The way I see it the point of this trend is not to offend but it is to show that a beautiful human being is beautiful no matter what their color. On an episode of America’s Next Top Model the models were to portray a different ethnicity. Was that offensive?!! In my opinion no it’s not offensive it’s art. And from another point of view if black face is wrong then so is black men making themselves look like white girls and acting stupid. I’m speaking in reference to the movie White Chicks. I thing that everyone needs to just chill and stop taking everything as an attack on who they are. Maybe its not that French vogue was trying to be offensive, maybe it is that they don’t see it such as a big deal. The racial tension in America is getting ridiculous. People are people no matter their differences. People need to learn to take things and just brush them off.

    October 14, 2009 at 3:46 pm |
  20. Tiiu H

    Ehh... Maybe it's a metaphor for how white people are suddenly feeling implicit pressure to be self-deprecating and pandering toward black people, which shouldn't be necessary, since /we're all human beings./ Maybe it's just Vogue doing the usual: trying way too hard to push people's buttons and seem offbeat in one way or another. Maybe it's merely a tip of the hat to Obama, but Vogue being Vogue and hipsters being hipsters, they just had to take the most complicated approach available. Who knows? Someone once said, "The only people who need not explain themselves are artists and pregnant women."

    October 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  21. Olu

    Plainly speaking, I don't get it! Either black or white faces painted to depict other races is slightly beyond me. Appreciate the intrigue, curiousity etc that goes with assuming such postures but wonder what level of sensitivity is taken into consideration with such artistic endeavours.

    To complete the circle, Vogue should provide a reversal of roles in its next instalment – at the very least, restore some parity!

    October 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm |
  22. The Mommie

    Are you serious? Are you really comparing the movie, "White Chicks" to Black-face? First of all, the movie was a comedy about two policemen who dressed up like rich girls so that they could stop a kidnapping attempt. This could've been made by anyone–black or white–the fact that The Wayan's did it and called it..."White Chicks" in itself was funny because they were men....not, black men. If whites were sold into slavery from Europe and treated the way blacks were-throughout the history of the United States-then, perhaps I could understand the comments made by many. Noone could possibly know what blacks have been through–except, perhaps Native Americans–but, even they weren't separated from their wives, husbands, children, and families–greased up and put onto a block to be sold like cattle or other inanimate object. As far as the Japanese dressing as "whites" when the are geisha's....well, that's a ritualistic and cultural symbolism practiced by Japanese. No where in America's history has any race been treated and be continuously treated as second-class citizens. Look at the Republicans in the Senate and Congress...they're mocking our President and hoping he fails simply because he's African-American. All the troops George Bush sent over to Iraq, and all the soldiers killed then–none of their family or protestors had anything to say. Was their deaths less tragic because our nation had a white President that couldn't even speak in complete sentences? Race/class is always going to be an issue in this country and in this world-as long as ignorance like the thought that it's okay to portray people in a denegrating way is okay!!!! Someone said...were there no black models in France? If she modeled because her teeth were bad-do what they did on America's Next Top Model–take her @## to a dentist. It's a sad day!

    October 14, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  23. nancy

    It's a different Country, different values. if you don't like it don't buy the magazine. Hit them where it'll hurt them ~~ in the pocketbook!

    October 14, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  24. Jerome

    Black. White. Yellow. Red. Brown. Racism will remain as long as we continue to categorize people by color, and CNN will be leading the way. I'm just waiting for Black in America 3 and 4, so don't let me down CNN. As a straight, white, christian, conservative male, I need to told how bad I am by the media and people of other ethnic groups. All the while CNN and people of other ethnic groups create some of most racist material in existance in today's modern world.

    Yes. I think Clevland Brown from that Fox cartoon said it best "WE CAN DRESS LIKE YOU, BUT YOU CAN NOT DRESS LIKE US!"...

    October 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm |
  25. rick

    Im glad im not the only one who notices the double standard. Blacks can gety on tv and just rip white people to shreds, and nothing is ever mentioned, but something not even intentionally offensive has made a big ruckus with black folks. It will never be fair i guess till blacks dont have to work for a living, all black guys have a white chick, and everyone has a white servant or 2. then they will still holler racism cause their white servant cant rap

    October 14, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  26. TRAVELINPANTS

    Didnt A real issue featuring black women make them millions? Or was that another magazine? Anyway, there are too many beautiful black women to put in any White or Black fashion magazine. To say it is high fashion is an insult to Black Women around the world. It says we cannot accurately represent ourselves. SO white men, paint white women, in dark brown and call it high fashion. NO THIS IS EUROPEAN RACISM THE GRANDPARENTS OF AMERICAN RACISM.

    October 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  27. Mari

    To call this fashion is offensive in itself. Say blackface and it instantly brings back images from the past. A past where there black were excluded or ridiculed simply by the color of their skin. Calling something art seems to allow artists to be racists and offensive. i will never by Vogue French or otherwise, there should be a boycott, they couldn't find black models, how offensive

    October 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm |
  28. The Mommie

    Is Blackface ever ok? Was lynching? Come on people. The demons have reared their ugly heads and racism is alive and "kicking". These people aren't going to be satisfied until the Black Panther Party, or some other form of Revolutionary Party against racists come back and retaliate. It's sad, that in 2009, French Vogue, Australia, and others see it as okay to bring back the "Blackface" that has signified disrespect and denegration among African-Americans. So yall think this is okay? Alright. That's good. Just wait....wait until something happens as a result of this....then, will it be funny then?

    October 14, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  29. ML Humphrey

    Blackface is never OK. Vogue might have created a more provocative statement – if indeed that was their intent – by incorporating into these photos black supermodels in white face, alongside the white supermodels in blackface. Then perhaps we'd all experience the discomfort that art is meant to produce, as our individual issues regarding race and identity came to the surface.
    What would our reactions be if confronted with images of both white and black races trying to assume the identity of the other? Would it seem threatening, or might a "saw my reflection in the mirror" feeling foster a greater sense of unity? In any case, we might become more aware that, tragically, power still is a byproduct of skin color.

    October 14, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
  30. Sam

    To being with: she is beautiful!

    Quite honestly, I think we need to learn how to distinguish between something done to make a statement of beauty and something done out of cruelty. This photo was not done out of cruelty, this photo was done to celebrate beauty.

    It's time that people stop looking for hate and discrimination and to start looking for beauty.

    October 14, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  31. i have been telling black women everywhere we are what others want to be

    i know black is beautiful. i want to know is there any black female models working for vogue? if so than how do you feel? is it fair to you to take a white woman and paint her body black and there you are waiting for the job. after all not one of you made the cut. how betrayal.

    October 14, 2009 at 10:57 am |
  32. Paul Mysza

    come on people; have some fun once in a while. we are so obsessed with racism that we forget we are all in this together. we are bothered by every little thing that someone else does, but we overlook our own idiosyncrasies. we have very little tolerance for what others do. we immediately claim racism. we need to realize that we all live on the same planet. if the planet fails, we all fail. lets not judge people by color or race. let us get to know eachother and maybe we could all just live peaceably together. (idealism at its best)

    October 14, 2009 at 10:54 am |
  33. Kalee

    Thank goodness other ppl are commenting about the Wayans brother's film "White Chicks". It would be a doule standard to criticize this photo and call it racist and yet make no remark to the ignorance of the "White Chicks" fillm.
    Maybe it would be appropriate for French Vogue to make a statement or maybe they should have placed an article with the photo describing the direction they were going in with this photo. It is curious that they lack black models.. but im not sure i believe that is the point of the photo nor the reason for painting the woman to resemble a black woman. Im sure we'll hear about this on the Tyra Banks show.. which I am quite looking forward to.

    October 14, 2009 at 10:23 am |
  34. Norbert, TX

    A little of fact-checking:

    No mainstream french-speaking media outlet has the 'story'.

    a couple of web-based site have picked it up.

    http://www.20minutes.fr/article/355079/Media-Scandale-autour-de-photos-d-une-mannequin-maquillee-en-noir.php

    for instance.
    in which they also claim that the first person to 'denounce' the picture were the american blog 'jezebel'.

    Internationally. The only source is the London Times website, that point back to 'unnamed blogger, except of the previously mentioned Jezebel.

    CNN piece seems to be mostly drawn from that London Times web entry.

    In other world the so-called "outrage in Europe and the U.S." is really ONE US blog.

    BTW the photoshoot was done by an American photographer!

    October 14, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  35. ronvan

    Simply nothing more than people, in this case a magazine, making money off of others. Why use blackface & not a "real" black model?
    The ones that came up with this idea are laughing all the way to the bank!

    October 14, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  36. jay m

    Why the blackface, they have black models over there, right?

    October 14, 2009 at 9:53 am |
  37. marie johnson

    no it's not okay. it is very sad when you have professional people with such a small mind. why would you call this a form of art when you have black people everyday walking around in their natural skin color we don't call that a form of art. we call it everything but art.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:35 am |
  38. jonathan bell

    You got to be kidding! Not only is blackface racist,stupid,dumb,and she looks out right UGLY(just imagin seeing a person looking like that....at night...after you have left the club....that scary movie....that lousey dinner...yor exwifes house!) Besides with all the beautiful blk women in the world vouge maggazine had to go in that direction(Oh thats right sorry dont wanna repeat, i already coverd Stupid!) The ladies in this house are showing their true beautiful colors as they draw up a list of things not allowed in the house. My roommate thinks its beer that wont be allowed i think its that vouge magazine.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:35 am |
  39. Mary, Midwest

    This is NOT okay-the negative connotation overwhelms any innocent intentions. It's just lke sporting a swastika-once a symbol of life & good luck, swastikas are now synonymous with Hilter's murderous regime.)

    Although I appreciate good art, black face is inherently associated with the simultaneous exclusion and exploitation of African-Americans. French Vogue should've "known better," but what makes this most offensive is the magazine's silence.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:29 am |
  40. Isaac Parr

    No, blackface is not acceptable. As the report went on to say we have come a long way in this country, when it in fact we have not. We have not gone anywhere against racism as long as there is Chief Wahoo & the Cleveland Indians, the horrid genocidal name of the Washington Redskins, Lee Corso thinking he is cute/funny/loyal when he puts on a headdress depicting Florida State University, & Native American halloween costumes are still being sold. There is no difference between these stereotypes & blackface.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:18 am |
  41. Arnout

    Personally I think that those pictures in Vogue magazine are not tasteful. I could say that it was not smart to show a white woman with a black painted face, considering the sensitivity around race issues, but probably the magazine wanted to create a controversy. I think this is mainly a case of bad taste and cheap greed.

    Pure racist is it though that there are no black or asian models in their list of topmodels. If Vogue is aiming to sell their magazines to a white audience I could understand it. But since they are selling their magazines world wide, the models that they hire should reflect the world's population. Now it feels like they're implying that causian looks are superior.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  42. Chet

    I wouldn't be so quick to call the photos racist. The layout is in a fashion magazine, in a context of embracing appearances. They shows us how race is a performance. We're all the same underneath the masks and costumes.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:17 am |
  43. Margaret M. Dardis

    "Blackface" may be leading humankind to enlightenment: let's get rid of the idea of "race". Scientists have long known that no such thing exists. We all came from a small area in Africa, even Rush Limbaugh. (It was Hitler that popularized and made too-permanent the idea in Western culture- confusing language, religion, and minor shades of skin pigmentation. He needed an excuse for his eco-political Drang nach Oesten- the Drive to the East which would grab land and kill off its occupants to counter the then-growing proLiferative population explosion of Middle Europe.)

    ARYAN, like LATINO, has to do with language, not biology, There are huge numbers of groups and genetic "families" around the globe, descended from100,000 years of random mutations. For example, albinos are the only "white" people in the world- and I have yet to meet a "black" man whose skin tone was indistinguishable from his really black business suit. And, all kids left behind, let's do a bit of math. How many ancestors did you have in Year 1 of the Common Era? Where did they live- all of them? Let's rely on science nd history, not on left-over ideologies.

    If I need a blood transfusion, and you kindly offer it, I want to know your blood type, not your skin color! And thank you, my fellow human!

    October 14, 2009 at 9:15 am |
  44. Salma

    In one sense it may be offensive for what our Country has been through. However, maybe the French who in the past were the only to welcome Black and even Italian (Sicilians-Black Italians) to their Country to live and perform and prosper; see this as a celebration for the first Black President. To erase all color lines in fashion, and going back in that same time line when they did welcome with open arms , they expected the same in exchange. Maybe? Remeber how many American perfomers had to run to France because They couldn't find work due to being Black , gay, or whatever the reason this country had in the early days of pre civil rights?

    October 14, 2009 at 9:15 am |
  45. Tisizele

    Some believe that education is the only key. However, education & COMMON SENSE combined is importnant to me. Plain ol common sense.

    October 14, 2009 at 9:14 am |
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