Thursday, July 18, 2024

Conversing with a White Woman About Black Face.

March 8, 2019 by  
Filed under News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Carnival season is well underway here in New Orleans. I realize some people outside of the city don’t realize we kicked off carnival season in January. I admit as a native its one of my favorite times of year. Its as though many of the things I love come together: food, good company, awesome marching bands, so much individuality with the floats and the costumes I will see, and the balls are lovely. Its one of the few times of year I really don’t want to be bothered with the foolishness of life, and what’s going on with the world. I take to time to literally enjoy carnival season and relax. However, those of us that are natives know that Mardi Gras has some separation within the partying. There are certain parades, like Rex on Mardi Gras Day, that you will never catch me attending.

I’m from here and black. I haven’t been to Rex since the early 90’s, and I remember being overlooked for white people when items were being thrown. We were literally waved away. I never saw the topless women in balconies on Bourbon St, that was not my area…nor my version of Mardi Gras. This year it seems the argument about black face has shown up in my city this carnival season, and the target is the Zulu Club, which happens to be home of the historically black Zulu Krewe. I couldn’t understand why Zulu was being protested for using black face, and I didn’t understand why a white woman felt the need to explain this matter to me.

I don’t hate transplants, but if you relocate to a place with a deeply established culture it would be wise to learn of the culture before deciding to protest things one may not understand. It is totally understood that some traditions are detrimental and need to be abolished; just make sure this is the case before you begin stirring a mess. The basis of the argument for the white woman explaining the matter to me is if white people wearing black face is wrong and hurtful then why should black people do such things. Why should black people be allowed to wear black face without question? She explained that Zulu needed to understand the ignorance of their actions, and how hurtful it is to black people and get rid of the black face.

Granted as I listened to her, I admit I felt like I was hearing a white person explain to me that if they can’t say the N word no one should. However, I greatly wanted to understand her positions, and eventually asked her if she was from New Orleans. Her response was no she moved to the city from California. I asked her had she done any research on the Zulu Club, or the attire they were Mardi Gras Day. She explained she had not, but that was moot because black face is wrong.

Please understand there is a part of me that feel I don’t owe her an explanation about the culture of my city, nor its people. Its very rude to begin speaking against something that you didn’t bother to research…it smells of entitlement. However, if she lives here, we might as well address the matter. What she needed to understand is the black makeup worn by Zulu members in the parades was akin to war paint as they could not, at one time, afford masks. If she, and others, pay attention to the entire presentation the makeup is apart of the outfits in whole. I explained to her she really needed to take the time to read up on this before speaking. Furthermore, it is wrong to judge a part of our culture because you feel you aren’t allowed to do the same.

Black face has nothing to do with warriors or masks. It has a distinctive history, and white people wore it for a hurtful and demeaning reason. The two are apples and oranges. I needed to ask her was she also protesting members of the Krewe of Rex for wearing hoods that could be compared to those of the KKK and showed her a picture. Of course, she had no words.

There are white people in New Orleans that do know the history and want Zulu, and our culture left alone. However, for those, white or black, folks that want to make a fuss over Zulu this year while speaking nothing of Rex…please remove yourself. We don’t owe you and explanation, nor do we have to change because you feel something is out of order that you didn’t bother to understand. Hopefully, I left her with something to think about, but I know deep down I really don’t care because she’s wrong. I will continue to enjoy the Zulu parade, and I will continue to stay away from Rex. We won’t have our carnival season determined by those that live outside the culture of our city.

Staff Writer; Chelle’ St James

May also connect with this sister via Twitter; ChelleStJames.

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