If you’ve read the title of this article and are thoroughly confused and possibly offended, let me first explain. Recently, Black Canadian model Winnie Harlow has been making waves in the media for her unique look: her black and white skin. Winnie Harlow has a skin condition called vitiligo, one that interferes with her skin pigmentation.
Lately, the look has been captured by the media and in return has been replicated by fans. Now replication of trends on social media is nothing new-except when it starts racial controversies. Many of the fans replicating the look are white and in turn are applying dark makeup.
If at this point you’re thinking so what, allow me to give a little recap on the history of blackface. In the 19th century America, it was customary for actors in theatre and later film to wear theatrical makeup when playing a black character. It proliferated many of the horrendous stereotypes such as “coons” and mocked African Americans with enormous amounts of disrespect. Blackface minstrel shows were however quite popular satire in those days yet had prolific effects on the Black community. These effects are still seen today yet fortunately are now a big cultural “no no” to attempt in society.
So is duplicating Harlow’s look appropriation, appreciation, or just racist? Winnie responded to the controversy earlier this week in an Instagram post:
“My response to this is probably not what a lot of people want but here it goes: every time someone wants fuller lips, or a bigger bum, or curly hair, or braids does Not mean our culture is being stolen. Have you ever stop to realize these things used to be ridiculed and now they’re loved and lusted over. No one wants to ‘steal’ our look here. We’ve just stood so confidently in our own nappy hair and du-rags and big a**es (or in this case, my skin) that now those who don’t have it love and lust after it. Just because a black girl wears blue contacts and long weave doesn’t mean she wants to be white and just because a white girl wears braids and gets lip injection doesn’t mean she wants to be black. The amount of mixed races in this world is living proof that we don’t want to be each other we’ve just gained a national love for each other. …It is very clear to me when someone is showing love and I appreciate these people recreating, loving and broadcasting something to the world that once upon a time I cried myself to sleep over #1LOVE”
Sadly, as always with social media, Harlow received numerous amounts of backlash and hate for her response. And to be honest, I’m on the fence about it. Appropriation and appreciation is always such a fine line I think everyone tries hard to find. However, if a subject as touchy as blackface is being called a “trend”, I know it would be hard to receive general support. It is important to note that Harlow is not the only one with vitiligo and ultimately this is still a sensitive subject for the many dealing with this skin condition. As for my word of advice: tread lightly on social media. Personally, that line is defined by ignorance or lack thereof. Knowing the historical underpinnings of any trend is crucial if you are going to appreciate it appropriately.
What are you’re thoughts about this debate? Use the hashtag #glamorouspaper or comment down below to add your voice in the matter.