Eli5 (and a German) the problem with black facing.


So I rewatched Pulp Fiction last night and thought it would be so nice to dress up on a Party as Jules, bringing a Big Kahuna Cup to drink from and quoting Ezekiel 25:17 and all.
To me this would be an act of showing how cool I find him.
In general I think dressing up as someone else could be considered a compliment to them, as it shows you’d like to be them, if only for a night.

So I am probably missing something here!
(I know it is a touchy topic and it’s not my intention to step on anyones toes.)

Edit: Added missing verb “showing”

Edit 2: Of cause I knew it is problematic! (Although I underestimated how much) I never had the intention to actually do more then fantasize about it (there isn’t even a real party coming up, it was just a thought), however I was interested in the American and the European (German) perspective. Seeing how lively this discussion is, seeing how very differnt the arguments and perspectives are, and reading all the interesting background information (I had never heared of “Minstrels”), I am very happy I asked!

In: 7450

Blackface originated in post Civil War America when white actors literally painted their faces with black makeup and gave performances that were nearly universally based on racial stereotypes and were dehumanizing and demeaning to African Americans. This history is inseparable from any modern practice of blackface. You may not mean anything derisive or offensive and may wish to just pay homage to a great character played by a great actor, but the tide of history you’re swimming against is far too strong for your individual motivation to outshine the racist history of the practice. You will be painted with the broad brush of racist history no matter the purity of your intentions.

In some ways it would be like dressing up as Christoph Waltz’s character in Inglorious Bastards, a Nazi who was willing to allow a plot to kill Hitler continue (granted, the character was unabashedly an evil Nazi, but there’s sill room for an analogy). Sure, you could say you were paying homage to a movie character played by a great actor, but you’re still dressing as a Nazi. You wouldn’t expect people to give you a chance to explain your choice, and you’d (hopefully) understand if they found your costume horribly offensive even after your explanation.

In the Victorian era a popular form of entertainment was minstrel shows. It did feature music, song, jokes, comedy and slapstick and were performed by live traveling actors. The main character of the show would be the minstrel who were depicting a black person and would be the main clown of the show. In almost all cases it was a white man with blackface and usually big red lips and other features making them look more ape like. They would be dumb witted and stupid which was the foundation for most of the jokes in the show. The minstrel shows did die off in the early 1900s with the last major ones being put up in the 1950s. However they could be found in more limited and private settings after this as well. It was not uncommon to have people dress up as a minstrel for costume parties into the 80s and 90s and this may still happen in certain circles.

You could argue that dressing up in blackface as Jules and dressing up in blackface as a minstrel is not the same thing. As a fellow European who have not grown up with the same racial conflicts as in the Americas (different racial conflicts though) I too do not quite see how it is problematic to honor strong characters by dressing up and identifying as them just because they are of a different race. But on the other hand I can see how it can be difficult differentiating between honoring someone in this way and making fun of them. And a clear simple rule like no blackface is a simple way of preventing people from dressing up as minstrels.

I’m black “und deutsch” and it seems naïveté that Europeans don’t understand black face after years of African colonialism, Christmas characters like black Peter, black King Casper or even Shakespeare Othello. My understanding is why mockery of my skin color, the content of my character is just as obnoxious as my skin?