'Colorface' When an Ethnic Identity is Reduced to Makeup and Trends

500x_ls_blonde_wigMakeup is magical in its ability to make us something we’re not, but can it go too far? Enter the recent trends of "blackface" and "colorface," where white models or artistes are painted to impersonate other races. This resurgence began with the Australian show “Hey Hey It’s Saturday” in which a cover group called the Jackson Jive performed in blackface, to mostly negative feedback. The trend is resurfacing in fashion as well: the Oct. 2009 French Vogue edition has Dutch model Lara Stone painted to look black (and dressed in requisite tribal garb). Even closer to home, an America’s Next Top Model episode required its contestants to be painted and dressed for a ‘biracial’ photo shoot. The ANTM girls wore heavy makeup to embody ethnicities such as Greek/Mexican or Thai/Egyptian and wore clothing Tyra believed these ‘mixes’ would wear.

All of this is derogatory, even in the name of fashion or entertainment. You can argue that it’s for art, but when you’re playing around with people’s cultural identities, it’s just wrong. First of all, when models are painted in blackface, they always end up wearing tribal-looking garb, which reinforces stereotypes of women of color being primitive, or worse, fetishizes them as exotic.

Diversity is sorely lacking in these industries to begin with: why not simply hire a black model to do the job? Why not have a Greek/Mexican model contestant instead of portraying what one “should” look like? Blackface isn’t a reaction to a lack of black models or an appreciation of black culture — it’s a temporary phase where being ‘black’ and ‘tribal’ is popular.

Not to mention the most important point: ethnicity and identity are such heavy, complex and sensitive issues. Pretending to be a different race is insulting, even under the excuse of aesthetics and guise of ‘this race is beautiful.’ Treating race as makeup — something that can be donned and then washed off, demeans the very real challenges and joys of any ethnic identity.

By using the colorface photoshoot concept, ANTM is blatantly making biracial people just characters the girls need to embody. Race isn’t necessarily about what you look like or what clothes you wear; it’s about culture and background and values, which can’t be achieved through heavy makeup and stereotyped attire.

Photo via Racialicious