People painting their faces Black, often cartoonishly, is a concept that has lasted throughout the enslavement and institutional oppression of Black people in the United States. Photos of white frat boys in Blackface for amusement among friends and videos of white girls in Blackface portraying racist stereotypes for attention or possibly humor are contemporary examples of the racist act. Dated examples include silent motion pictures of a man in Blackface chasing and attempting to rape a white woman. During slavery and continuing after it’s abolishment, Blackface was persistently used by the media and individuals to push the rhetoric that Black people were animalistic, uncivilized, unintelligent and a lesser form of human. The harmful agenda connected to Blackface accompanied by its recurrence throughout American history and pop culture prove it to be a powerful tool in normalizing and excusing the continued mistreatment of Black people and systematic racism executed by the United States’ government.
So when Gucci released a sweater resembling interpretations of Blackface, it was not surprising. The sweater featured a Black turtleneck that was meant to be pulled over the face to show large red circular lips, which are often used in racist cartoons and interpretations of Blackface. The company released an apology stating that it would take more precautions in the future and claimed it had not intended to be racist, and had not noticed the racist undertones. However, the resemblance between the product and images of people in Blackface is undeniable. Thus suggesting that Gucci either does not have anyone with an adequate understanding of Black people’s history in America or they don’t care. Because of the severity of Blackface, the public cannot simply wait for Gucci to hold themselves accountable. Consumers can do so by not purchasing their products until the company can show diversity in their marketing team and basic cultural sensitivity and understanding. If Gucci wishes to maintain its position as a respected brand, it needs to show the same respect to society.
Unsurprisingly, another occurrence of Blackface arose during Black History Month when images of Democrat Ralph Northam surfaced following his election into office as the governor of Virginia. The 1984 yearbook picture features Northam next to someone dressed in Klu Klux Klan attire in cartoon-like and darkened makeup. Had his past been disclosed to voters beforehand, would he still have won?
Northam’s election into office cannot be considered fair and democratic if the voters of Virginia were left blind to his past, especially one with implications of hatred and racism. It also displays a superiority complex in the sense that it shows the governor thinks it’s acceptable to take advantage of his position of power as a white man to demean an oppressed people. This will likely have an influence on his political agenda, and therefore voters have a right to know about it.
Brands, politicians, and regular individuals must be held accountable for their actions, especially when these actions have such a harmful impact on members of our society.