Do they never learn? A couple of years ago Julianne Hough came under fire for ‘blacking up’ as she portrayed the character of Crazy Eyes from Netflix original show Orange Is The New Black, and now Jason Aldean becomes the latest in an unfortunately extending line of celebrities who think it’s acceptable to change their skin color for the sake of Halloween.
Last week, country blog Nashville Gab discovered a photo on Instagram (that was later removed) appearing to show Aldean, wife Brittany Kerr, and Aldean’s sister Kasi Williams Morstad posing for a Halloween photo. Although it wasn’t immediately apparent that the man in the red bandanna, black sunglasses, ‘bling’ and fake dreadlocks was Aldean, other photos from Williams Morstad’s Instagram showed it was indeed a group of her and her friends, and closer inspection reveals Aldean’s distinctive features.
Aldean is known for his connections to hip hop culture, including rapping in his songs and collaborating with the likes of Ludacris, but it’s unclear who he was really supposed to be. Some suggested a Rastafarian, while others went for a racist stereotype of “gangbanger,” and still others saw Lil Wayne. Only a few sites were reporting the story, until Aldean’s publicist Tyne Parrish made a statement yesterday (Nov 10), confirming to The Guardian that his client did in fact wear blackface for Halloween as part of a Lil Wayne costume.
The trouble is, while Halloween is all about changing your appearance and wearing a costume, the history of blackface in the United States and around the world means that it is deemed unacceptable. In the 19th century and even throughout most of the 20th century, white people would ‘black up’ for the purpose of minstrel shows, which were designed to depict ruthless stereotypes of any people of color (although mostly African slaves). In the early days of the Grand Ole Opry, they were known to feature blackface comedians until after the 1930s when they began to move away from the practise.
In general, painting one’s face black has historically been associated with deep-rooted racism because the action was used to cement racist attitudes. We may be in 2015, but that doesn’t mean that we have moved beyond a practise that was still occurring in abundance in living memory, and blackface remains highly offensive to many.
Whether Aldean thinks blackface is acceptable or not, he should have known that it would result in awful PR, and should surely have thought better of it. Whether he did it in tribute to Lil Wayne or not is irrelevant; it was a poorly educated move that is not acceptable in today’s society.