- Created on 29 October 2013
FILE - This Oct. 1, 2013 file photo shows actress Julianne Hough at the 20th Annual "FFANY Shoes on Sale" Gala presented by QVC and FFANY in New York. Hough apologized on Twitter amid criticism for darkening her skin for a costume as Crazy Eyes from "Orange is the New Black" at a Hollywood bash. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — Is donning blackface to dress up as a favorite TV character ever OK for Halloween?
How about a bloody hoodie and blackface for a costume riff on the slain teen Trayvon Martin, or full-on minstrel at a splashy Africa-themed party for the fashion elite in Milan?
Each of those costumes made headlines this Halloween season. And the answer to each, African studies and culture experts said, is never.
"The painful history of minstrelsy is not that long ago for us to think that now, somehow, we can do it differently or do it better," said Yaba Blay, co-director of Africana Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Julianne Hough found that out the hard way. She apologized on Twitter over the weekend amid criticism for darkening her skin for a costume as Crazy Eyes from "Orange is the New Black" at a Hollywood bash.
Hough explained on Twitter: "I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created. It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize."
There's a fine line between mockery and tribute — and it's a line that blackface has the power to obliterate, said Marita Sturken, professor of media, culture and communication at New York University.
"It's never something very simple, and if you're going to don a costume and put on a black face there's no possibility of nuance there," she said. "It doesn't matter that it was a character from a TV show. That doesn't get her off the hook. If she's going to put some substance on her face, that constitutes blackface and this incredibly complicated history gets evoked."
Historically, blackface emerged in the mid-19th century, representing a combination of put-down, fear and morbid fascination with black culture, said Eric Lott, an American studies professor at City University of New York's graduate center. Among the most prominent examples: Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor.
"It's constantly a form of entertainment that backs itself into all kinds of trouble, whether political trouble around slavery or a kind of mental trouble having to do with fantasizing about black people," said Lott, who wrote the 1993 book "Love & Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy & the American Working Class."
As for Hough, he said: "It's just a stupid thing to do. It's a racist thing to do. What blackface does is give the white people privilege of representing black people, of taking black images and treating them as a thing owned."
Kelsey Crowe, who teaches social work in San Francisco, has been following the fracas on Facebook. She sees more tribute to Crazy Eyes than hatred in Hough's costume. Other recent examples are far more troubling, she said.
"Trayvon Martin, that's awful," Crowe said of two Florida men whose photo circulated on social media ahead of Halloween on Thursday.
One was in blackface with a simulated bloody bullet hole at the chest and the other simulated a gun to the head of the faux 17-year-old while dressed as George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon in Florida and was acquitted in court.
She was also "not into" the minstrel costumes in Milan. But the look for Hough "didn't strike me as exploitative at all," she said.
"In other cases blackface is used to make fun of people. I really saw this as a way to embody a character that you like," said Crowe, who will be a cat for Halloween with her 3-year-old daughter.
"Everybody likes the character of Crazy Eyes," she added, "but I guess that could be said of Aunt Jemima, too."
What if the "Rock of Ages" singer, dancer and actress had eliminated blackface from the equation, keeping her simulation of the Bantu knotted hairstyle worn by the character, along with the orange prison jumpsuit she and her friends zipped on as a posse of female inmates from the Netflix series?
"Yes, leave the skin color alone. Leave the stereotypical performance of it and I would imagine to some degree that could be middle ground," Blay said. "People dress up as other people all the time. That's what happens at Halloween. But she didn't do that. And as far as Trayvon, no. Never."
- Created on 28 October 2013
California’s oldest university just named its first black homecoming king and queen.
Seniors Daniel Harris-Lucas and Diana Busaka were crowned Thursday night at San Jose State University, beating out 22 other applicants who all submitted a nomination, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a resumé and newsclips about them.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Harris-Lucas told NBC Bay Area. “But it’s probably overdue. I’m glad to be part of history. But this probably should have happened years ago.”
SJSU first caught national attention at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when two of its students, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, placed in the 200 meter race and raised their black-gloved fists in the iconic black power salute. A statue of them stands on the SJSU campus today.
While the homecoming judging panel noted that there has been an black queen before, this is the first year there has been a couple.
Occupational therapy major Busaka was born in Kenya and public relations major Harris-Lucas grew up in foster care and has mentored youth in Oakland.
- Created on 28 October 2013
NEW YORK (AP) — No Macy's employees were involved in the detention or questioning of a black actor who claims he was stopped because of his race while shopping at the flagship Manhattan department store, Macy's officials said Sunday.
Rob Brown, a black actor who works on the HBO series "Treme," has said he was detained nearly an hour by police on June 8 after employees contacted authorities about possible credit card fraud. The actor has filed a lawsuit.
In a statement, Macy's said there was no record of any employee contacting authorities about Brown's purchase. The store said police officers requested use of a room in the building and that request was granted.
The store said it was reaching out to Brown, and continuing to investigate the situation.
Brown's account comes after claims from two black shoppers said they were racially profiled at Barneys New York.
Trayon Christian sued Barneys, saying he was accused of fraud after using his debit card to buy a $349 Ferragamo belt in April. Kayla Philips filed a notice of claim saying she would sue after she was stopped by detectives outside the store when she bought a $2,500 Celine handbag in February.
As the criticism grew, Barneys said it had retained a civil rights expert to help review its procedures. The CEO of Barneys, Mark Lee, offered his "sincere regret and deepest apologies."
Kirsten John Foy, an official with the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, said he would meet with Barneys officials on Tuesday to discuss the racial profiling allegations.
- Created on 25 October 2013
Barneys New York CEO has apologized for the recent experiences of two black shoppers who said they were racially profiled. According to WABC-TV in New York, Mark Lee said in a statement, "Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies." Yesterday, Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network had demanded a meeting with the retailer.
As reported by NewsOne, shoppers Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips both have lawsuits pending against Barneys after being accosted by police who accused them of stealing items from the store after they purchased costly items.
Barneys says it is also hiring Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to review their practices for fairness.
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition is turning up the heat on hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, asking him to cut ties with Barneys. Derrick Bowers writes in the petition:
Jay Z is currently in partnership with Barneys New York for the release of his holiday collection — called "A New York Holiday" (or BNY SCC). Barneys lacks any connection with the black and hip-hop community. And without his vast wealth and brand power, they would see him the same as they see Trayon Christian. Jay Z should be appalled by Barneys actions, and withdraw all support from them. If he does this, he will send a clear message to all corporations that are like-minded, that this behavior cannot be tolerated any longer.
On "NewsOne Now" with Roland Martin, the host took things a bit farther today when he asked, "Should we do a Black flash mob at Barneys?" With tongue-planted-in-cheek, Martin called for a "Barneys Try On Day," when thousands of black shoppers would swarm the store and ask to try on clothing. Find out what he suggest they do at the end of it, in a clip here.