Last night I was having an interesting conversation with my friend James regarding my hair lol. It wasn’t my fault however-he actually initiated it and brought the topic up and of course I went with it. From there he began to elaborate on the epic failure known as 27-piece hair weave setups, wigs and tracks and how great it is to see women of color embracing their own hair. He then compared modern-day’s fake hair to Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” and it got me thinking…
Are entertainers such as Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, Lil Wayne and Gucci our modern-day examples of “blackface?”
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Let’s break this down and really think about it. Blackface was a widely popularized entertainment medium that grossly exaggerated Negro culture’s physical features. Negros were able to gain the approval of the majority culture (White America) by “poking fun” of what others disapproved of. Everyone laughed and was wildly entertained at the expense of the Black man. It wasn’t until Black consciousness was awoken in the form of the Civil Rights Movement that America recognized how detrimental blackface actually was.
If we fast-forward 90+ years or so (assuming blackface was dying by the 1920s) we’ve arrived at the heightened popularity that is hip hop culture. Many have argued that the popularity of it is mainly because it’s an opportunity for the majority culture to laugh at Black culture’s expense. Today we have Nicki Minaj representing the Black woman-Nicki with her multicolored, eccentric weaves, hyper-sexualized physical demeanor (there’s no denying that chick is beautiful though!) and a fiery, lyrical delivery. As a result Nicki has been put on a platform of admiration and idolation but I have to ask, at whose expense? Is she not a gimmick? Many of us have seen Nicki’s documentary on MTV and are now aware that she is performing as a character in her music. Is that not what the blackface performers were/representing? Entertaining the broad audience at the expense of their own culture (and sense of self)?
With the aforementioned, we can easily pull other performers into the equation, namely Lil Wayne, who speaks of his allegiance to Martians. We’ve heard him in interviews speaking like he has some sense but then we hear his music and watch him perform-consistency is severely lacking. He again
"Ironic you been sleeping on the one that you been dreamin 'bout." -J. Cole
reverts to a character, entertains the masses and leaves me again to question, “At who’s expense?”
With this being Black History Month we must have a conversation with ourselves about the direction that we, as a culture, community and country are moving towards. While hip hop has its share of saviors (cue newcomer J. Cole) and the culture has embraced some of its heritage (cue the natural hair movement) our work is nowhere near complete. Get back to work folks!