Jonathan Kraut | Blackface, Brownface and Halloween

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Last Saturday my wife and I hosted our Annual Halloween Latin Dance Party.

Since 2004 our beautiful Fair Oaks home has offered a welcoming opportunity for more than 50 costume-clad dancers and their friends to enjoy the Halloween spirit. We share our appreciation for Latin dance and music, mostly in costume, and mingling among snacks and desserts. We also enjoy the many non-dancers as well who are welcomed to watch, chat and commune.

The house this year was packed. Delicious food was posted everywhere. The music was great and echoed in our family-room-turned-dance-floor. Decorations adorned every downstairs room, in the front, and in the rear. Dancing ensued inside, quite conversations outside, and camaraderie abounded. 

While most attendees are semi-costumed in order to facilitate the mobility and comfort needed to enhance dancing experience, a significant number of guests went all out and were in full regalia. It is remarkable how some of these guests still are able to dance with ease despite elaborate costumes.

The innocence of a costume party apparently in our current politically correct climate could have political repercussions and can bode of scandal, however.

A few months back Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with great apology and embarrassment, admitted in the 1990s he wore brownface makeup at an Arabian Nights costume party.

Other politicians, such as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, apologized for wearing blackface decades ago.

Blackface and brownface are defined as using make-up to help create the racial appearance of someone with a dark skin tone.  

To me, this recent evolution of what is now taboo, to use makeup to make a costume look more authentic, is silly if not just plain stupid. 

I am of Middle Eastern descent, albeit with the influence of European DNA. Last Saturday I wore my Arab thobe, a long loose gown, and red and white kaffia headdress, Saudi-style. These items I have worn at times over the years as I am accustomed to Middle Eastern culture and attire and most of my family still live over there. 

I did not need makeup since my facial features blend in nicely with the Semitic motif. But what if I wanted to darken my skin tone to go with the costume? This notion raises some great ethical questions.

Can an African American use blackface without offending others? Is it OK for a person of Middle Eastern, South Asian, Native American, or Hispanic descent wear brownface? Is there any such thing as whiteface? Should children at Halloween be forbidden from wearing costumes reflecting other cultures and ethnicities?

The outrage of a white person using face makeup to more authentically “be in character” somehow is one-sided if not wholly idiotic. Actors do this and no one complains. Minorities apparently are permitted to put on “whiteface” without condemnation. But white folk cannot apply darker skin tones? 

This false sensitivity to skin tone and ethnicity is one of the idiotic things for which our generation will be remembered. 

Imagine if we take this crazy concept further. Imagine if Caucasians start to be admonished for using an accent and dialect typical of blacks from the deep South or for bowing in the manner of East Asia? Is it that no one can imitate the voice, facial features, cloths, or customs of other peoples or nations?

Halloween accoutrement, costume parties, and dressing up like others, especially for children, is a lot of fun and to me brings better appreciation for those different from ourselves. 

At our Halloween Latin dance party, easily the majority of dancers were not of Latino descent. If we carry this social ban on imitating those whose skin is darker a tad further, does that mean non-Latinos would no longer be allowed to appreciate and enjoy the many rich and beautiful styles of Latin dance? 

I hope politicians stop this charade of false apologies and needless hyper-sensitivity. Apologies for blackface, brownface, or whatever face only promotes the false narrative that imitating others is somehow offering disrespect for our various cultures and races.  

If imitation is one of the greatest forms of flattery, we should embrace and appreciate the many skin tones, cultures, attire and customs we share among our human race. We should cease buying in to contrived and misplaced shame of our diversity. We should push back against shaming those who wear makeup in appreciation of others instead of condemning it.

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO private security firm, is the COO of an acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.         

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