Commentary: Nothing New Under the Sun

Winnie Harlow

Commentary: Nothing New Under the Sun

White women donning Blackface is not even a little shocking.

Published August 24, 2015

Listen. There are a lot of things that still surprise me: Flowers. A round of drinks from a cute stranger. My daughter’s ability to simultaneously hardcore snoop on my conversations and still be the cutest thing on earth. But white women using brown makeup to simulate the look of black model Winnie Harlow’s vitiligo is not one of those things.

Vitiligo is a condition that causes the loss of skin color when melanin-producing cells die or cease to function. Harlow, a model from Toronto, Canada, who came to fame via America’s Next Top Model, has often spoken about being teased for her skin.

Over the weekend, the “Black Girl” Twitter account posted images of white women painted to look like Harlow, serving major Blackface.

Crazy? Yup. Surprising? Nope. Blackface is a tradition as old as time and every year we see another magazine spread or five where a fashion editor or photographer thinks it makes more sense to paint a white model than to hire an actual Black woman. I’m actually more surprised by Harlow’s reaction, which she posted on Instagram:

My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they're loved and lusted over. No one wants to "steal" our look here. We've just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big asses (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don't have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn't mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn't mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don't want to be each other we've just gained a national love for each other. Why can't we embrace that feeling of love? Why do we have to make it a hate crime? In a time when so much negative is happening, please don't accuse those who are showing love and appreciation, of being hateful. It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over #1LOVE

In this post, which has garnered more than 21,000 likes, she maintains that women recreating the effect of her vitiligo is not cultural appropriation. And I agree with her—though vitiligo is most noticeable in people of color, it can happen to anyone, and it’s not something I associate with Black culture. But I can’t follow her larger idea that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery when it comes to picking up pieces of our culture when they are convenient or trending without an understanding or appreciation for the history behind them, whether that’s hairstyles or clothing. And Blackface? I. Just. Can’t.

But when it comes to this re-creation of her skin, if she likes it…I guess I can deal with it. I’m certainly not surprised.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)

Written by BET-Staff


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