This week, Tyffaine Akkouche explores the horror of blackface, speaking to Alana Garcia about the violent online harassment she experienced when outing a group who performed the outdated practice.
Once upon a time, one may have claimed ignorance. They didn’t know better, so how can they act better? But in the age of technology, where a news story from China can reach Europe quicker than you can say ‘globalisation’, there is simply no excuse for ignorance. The knowledge is there for the taking, and if you don’t act accordingly to society’s progression against racism and towards better general treatment of others, then it’s very simple: Racism is your choice.
Blackface is a practice that was started in the 19th Century, and should frankly have stayed there. It was a form of entertainment where white people would paint their faces black with oil or paint and accentuate their lips, essentially creating a caricature of a black person. It was a huge catalyst to help spread negative racial stereotypes and became a branch of comedy performance in itself.
Thankfully, most of us can now recognise how catastrophically disgusting this was. However, there are still incidences of blackface in this modern day. Some think it is the perfect Halloween costume, but the only thing scary about them is the vast empty space where their brain is supposed to be.
We spoke to Alana Garcia, who recently outed a group of girls who wore blackface as part of a Spanish school dance competition, about her opinion on racism in today’s society. The identity of the girls at fault and their school will be protected for legal reasons.
How did you react to seeing this group of girls doing blackface on your social media?
A friend showed me a screenshot of the girls in blackface. I reached out to them straight away and explained why this was wrong. I sent them an article and advised they deleted it. I have seen this so many times before, in particular with Spanish people and in their culture they don’t see what is wrong with it, refusing to take any responsibility.
How did these particular girls react when you outed them?
Some ignored it, others laughed. Then all of a sudden they were harassing me, threatening me with a lawsuit and warning me they would go to the police if I didn’t apologise for calling them racist. They were also insulting me in a very personal way, saying I didn’t have anything better to do and my life must be boring – I only did this because I wanted to let others know that it is not okay to do blackface and that you must be held accountable for your actions.
What was their defence for their actions?
They said they needed to do blackface because they were doing an African dance and not doing blackface would negate the existence of black people and diversity.
I found out about the dance competition, the theme was dances from around the world and many schools were involved in cultural appropriation and mockery of these countries. One group did Samba and dressed as Brazillian girls – including brown face and using pillows to exaggerate their butts and breasts.
Do you think these girls can claim ignorance in this case?
I think they just wanted to do blackface and have a laugh, if they didn’t know it was offensive they could have apologised and deleted the photos as no one likes to upset others… but they were too proud to apologise and went after me instead.
How common is blackface in Spain?
Honestly, it is quite common, but at this point there is no excuse for this behaviour. We live in a globally connected society, if you are ignorant you are doing it out of choice. Black history is not on the curriculum. However if your school won’t teach you about it the media will, the internet will – these girls are adults and need to be aware of their white privilege and inform themselves about issues that don’t affect them.
What do you think needs to be done to change this dysfunctional part of society?
I think we need to start holding our friends accountable, using our social media to spread the knowledge everyone needs to have. I am also very disappointed in this school for allowing this to happen- they should be raising their students to be positive members of society.
I also think at this moment a lot of people are trying to profit from black culture – we can take inspiration from others but we need to give credit where credit is due.
The only way we can respectfully admire and use aspects of black culture is if we collectively start fighting for their rights to make sure their community has the same opportunities as everyone else. It seems unfair that a white person can appropriate a black person’s culture, wanting all the cool parts about being black without actually being black and dealing with the daily issues they face.