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Illmasqua Blackface Ad

29 November 2012, 16.28 | Posted in advertisement | 6 comments »

IllamasquaBlackface 540x304 Illmasqua Blackface Ad

The ad here by British cosmetics company Illmasqua is being described as racist, in that it features a model in blackface, which has been used in performance to create a stereotyped charicature of a black person. The tophat and bowtie further support the typical look of a blackface costume. Despite a barrage of criticism the company as of yesterday continued to defend the ad (though interestingly the blackface side is not longer on its Facebook page), and made the following statement:

We thank and acknowledge your comments regarding the above image. Obviously it was never our intention to cause offence; Illamasqua has always celebrated the right to self-expression and we continually push creative and artistic boundaries, priding ourselves on working with models of many ethnic backgrounds to reinforce this point.

In covering this industry over the years it’s been my observation that people/companies often react defensively to accusations of racist behavior–which is understandable, it’s a very heavy charge to bear, no one wants to be the uncool racist guy or gal. When pointed at they respond with statements like, oh, I don’t see people based on their color or no harm was meant or this is art. But systemic racism is much bigger, more subtle and ultimately more damaging than over the top hate speech. Big picture it’s about supporting and helping to maintain a system of power, aka white supremecy.

You see tribute to the system reflected on runways, in editorials, ads and in disdain for streetwear that gets turned on its head when the same looks are shown on a runway. The vitriolic response to Kanye West’s showing in Paris was in part based in racism. And of course it’s shown in power at the top, who runs the most monied fashion companies and then too, those in charge of the most storied–Europe’s Haute Couture houses.

At this point in history, waving racism away because it wasn’t intended is a feeble excuse, especially for well educated and cultured fashion industry bigwigs, who like to pride themselves for their progressive view points. We all make mistake and stumble, life is a learning process, but in general this industry could do a lot better.

Related posts:
» More Beyonce Images From L’Officiel Magazine
» Video: Beyonce In Blackface For L’Officiel Magazine
  1. Laura:

    From a European (and I am also of European heritage, as well as upbringing, which I’m sure you may think will affect my judgement on this matter) point of view, I’m really sorry to say this, but in the name of honesty and freedom of expression, I must say it: I don’t get the race issue here. We in Europe don’t have this whole blackface history that Americans are so sensitive about (at least not where I grew up), I first heard of it just a few years ago, during the Beyonce black face scandal (she was STYLED BY AN AFRICAN MAN for that picture, by the way, I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend African Americans by it either, just DID NOT KNOW about the whole issue). I’m sorry to hear that you guys are constantly getting offended by creative images that aren’t put out there to offend you at all. And by writing this, I don’t mean to offend you either, or defend this commercial campaign, just saying, for your own sake, dear Americans, please don’t get offended by CULTURAL DIFFERENCES. It’s like getting offended by a foreigner saying a word that in english is a profanity, but in his/her language means something else.

  2. Hi Laura: Thank for you comment. I understand that culture can create distance from painful incidents, but I think black face is different than a word that doesn’t translate across languages. It was essentially a mockery of black people that could exist because of their less-than status in society. It’d be one thing if now the world was an equal place, but it’s not at all–even in Europe minorities struggle more and for the most part are kept out of positions of power. So when a powerful corporation chooses to be inspired by something in our past that we’re still dealing with overcoming it comes across as not only racist but also callous. For me it’s disturbing that a company whose emphasis is creativity and artistry would even be inspired by blackface. Why in the world use imagery that is known to be painful to so many? Do their feelings not matter? There are so many more ways to push the limits and expand ALL people’s minds that are beautiful and thought provoking and don’t rehash the same old visuals and stereotypes.

  3. Laura:

    That’s what I’m saying – I don’t think it’s INSPIRED BY BLACKFACE. Like words are symbols for things, so are images, this image, to a European like myself, does not symbolize what you know as “blackface.”

  4. We could debate whether or not it’s inspired by blackface though it’s seems very obvious to me given the placement of the makeup, the tophat & the bowtie. If you are saying Europeans have no awareness around blackface that is not true, it’s been performed in various places around the globe and stirs up controversy wherever it goes. And even if the average person is ignorant, a corporation can’t use that excuse and expect to get away with it. We can assume the team who creates its marketing programs are very highly educated, wordly and brought on because they have a good sense and feel for popular culture imagery. The issue is that no one at Illmasqua thought to put the breaks on this campaign and part of that I have to assume is that they exist in a bit of a priviledged bubble and lack exposure to a perspective that is truely all inclusive.

  5. beck:

    LOVE This post! And thank u for educating the naysayer in the comments!

  6. Megan:

    Totally agree, I love you guess for thinking critically and questioning things like this. If we all nod our heads and go along with it, things will never change.

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