The “Best of Both Worlds” Column features current pop culture events that have sparked public discussions of significant social issues and clearly caused a ruckus both online and off. Readers get both their pop fix and their intellectual fix in one short sitting.
As Bey once said, I swear it’s déjà vu. First the songstress gets into hot water in many communities over her 2008 L’ Oreal advertisement, that featured a much lighter and frankly whiter looking Beyonce. Now, the issue that many have with her skin seems to have found herself at the other end of the color spectrum. In honor of the 90th anniversary issue of L’Officiel Paris, Beyonce rocks a completely dark-brown made-up face that many are calling “blackface” for an “African Queen” themed photo shoot celebrating Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. According to a spokesperson from L’Officiel Paris, the face paint was a nod to certain traditions of face painting in Africa:
“The designs are all reflective of the African influence on fashion this season,” the magazine said in a statement. “As for the artistic make-up, the inspiration came from several African rituals during which paint is used on the face.”
The magazine fails to mention which particular tradition they are referring to and the meaning behind the tradition, which has lead many to believe that they’re just trying to cover their butts for doing blackface.
Some people are up in arms about this spread, denouncing the face paint as offensive, racist, and disrespectful. The fact that many fashion designers over the past few years havetaken to painting the faces of their white models similarly only adds fuel to the fire (see white model Laura Stone below.) On the other hand, the issue of whether or not a black person can actually be accused of performing blackface has also been brought up. Fashion blogger Fly 11 of Fresh Xpress writes,
“ The idea of an already black woman needing to appear darker to pay tribute to a black man is a gross admittance of an obsession with skin color, which we are supposed to be over by now. We’ve come far but there is still a distance to go, simple subliminal moves such as this will eat away at the fabric we’ve painfully struggled to weave together.”
On the topic of white models rocking black face (see photo above,) Zandile Blay, the Fashion Market Editor at Paper Magazine, doesn’t seem to be bothered so much by the actual face painting of white models as she is by the fact that fashion directors aren’t using the real deal–black women–instead. In her Huffington Post article, Blay wrote:
As an African-born, American-raised, black woman, I guess my knee jerk reaction is to be upset about white model Lara Stone being painted in blackface for French Vogue. But alas, I am unbothered. [...] [French Vogue Editor] Carine Roitfeld doesn’t hate black people – she probably doesn’t know any. More to the point she likely doesn’t have any on her staff, especially in an editorial capacity. And that points to the real issue: not a white model painted in blackface, but a dearth of black faces in a white industry.
The “N” word comes to mind when discussing the issue of Beyonce and blackface. Like nigger, blackface performance derived from a horrific period in American history in order to denigrate and humiliate black people through racist archetyping. However, some believe that when black individuals use the word or perform blackface in an antithetical manner, those individuals have then re-purposed the meanings and, in effect, empowered the black community.
Just to make matters a bit more complex, Beyonce’s Creole background, her favorite lacefront wig that she’s rocking in the shoot, and the magazine’s one dimensional, stereotypical view of African skin complexions and traditions (there are African women with Beyonce’s complexion) should also be thrown into this colorful conundrum of race, fashion, ethnicity, standards of beauty, and Bey—the ultimate chameleon. Is this really artistic, really offensive, or both?