Sunday, 29 May 2011

White blackface?

Following my last blog about blackface I had an exchange of messages on Facebook with a reader of this blog, who commented:

“I still don't see how a ‘blackened face’ is any different from blackface - even when looking at it ‘objectively’, outside of our own time and culture. If they really meant it for more theatrical purposes, having nothing to do with race, then why did they always use black? Surely that wasn't the only color they had available.”

My comment back to her was that she was speaking as someone who found it difficult to imagine living in a world where she had never seen a person of African heritage and where something like soot was plentiful. I doubt if not considering those two things was really being ‘objective’.

Whilst acknowledging that the term ‘morris’ in ‘morris dancing’ has been linked to the word ‘Moorish’, I am still going to suggest that we can distance blackened faces in British rituals from theatrical blackface, and I am going to do it by the following analogy.

Here is a picture of Xhosa initiates in South Africa…

… surely if they really mean their white face-paint for ritual purposes having nothing to do with race then why do they always use white? Surely that isn’t the only colour they have available.

In fact we have no evidence to suggest that they are imitating white people any more than the Australian Aborigine below is, or Makua women in Mozabique are.

I hope that readers get the point of this analogy.


  1. Haha, point taken.

    But still ...

    what is the difference between whiteface/blackface and the more colorful facepaint or bodypaint seen, for example, in Native American tribes?


  2. The many Native American cultures will use both black and white face paint with a variety of significances. One instance of the use of white signifies peace.