This is part of a weekly series called in which The Lantern’s Ty Anderson offers his take on the week’s pop culture news.
I had hoped to spend this week writing about a rumored “Full House” reboot, but after noticing that a piece about Kylie Jenner was featured as E! News’ most-read article, I couldn’t help but shift my gears.
Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the Kardashian brood, recently posted a picture of herself looking decked out in an intergalactic color pallet and a heavy dusting of shimmery particles.
“Is Kylie replacing Jennifer Lawrence as the X-Men’s Mystique?” I wondered. “Or is this perhaps a promo pic for ‘Avatar 2’?”
I clicked on the link, expecting to find movie information about an upcoming blockbuster sci-fi sensation, but I was instead barraged with waves of proposed bigotry and unsubstantiated cries of racism.
“Blackface.” That’s how people are labeling Kylie’s picture. For those who don’t know, blackface is a make-up technique primarily used in turn-of-the-century minstrel shows — a white actor would paint his face black (hence “blackface”), and then (usually negatively or comically) portray a black person. The practice was deemed offensive (for good reason), and has been all but eliminated from modern theater.
But lo and behold, here is the ever-menacing Kylie Jenner, reviving this harmful practice from the depths of its long-forgotten-Louisiana-plantation-burial-ground with a modern depiction of this archaic and racist act.
The comments on the E! News article, which have since been disabled, reeked of hatred. Countless anonymous commenters slammed the picture, calling it racist, harmful and distasteful. If Kylie had actually painted her face black, and if she had actually intended to mock people of a differing skin tone, then sure — it would be racist, harmful and distasteful. But that’s not the story.
See, Kylie’s picture in no way resembles the images you see upon Google-searching “blackface.” Her skin and eyes have a metallic blue sheen, her hair is streaked with hues of purple and pink and her cheeks are splashed with so much glitter that an uninformed Internet browser might reasonably suspect that Kesha was making a long-overdue comeback.
In a second picture displaying the makeup job in question, Kylie captioned the photo with the phrase: “What I wish I looked like all the time.” She later clarified the statement in a tweet that reads: “Yes, in another world I wish I could have pink hair & blue eyes & covered in sparkles.” The biggest and only message that this photo conveys is that it’s fun to alter the way you look.
That’s why Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are often seen sporting long blond locks. It’s why people get plastic surgery and dye their hair. Those decisions don’t draw any particular public outcry, and they aren’t social statements. They’re fun, which is likely what Ms. Jenner was having when she posted the picture.
Food for thought: Disney Channel star Zendaya, recently called out red carpet hawk Giuliana Rancic for a racist remark regarding her hair after Rancic said Zendaya’s dreadlocks were “making her a little more boho. Like I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed.”
Since then, Zendaya has complimented Kylie’s photo, a message she then semi-retracted after a disgruntled commenter voiced her disapproval. Zendaya, who’s obviously concerned with depictions of race, didn’t see anything wrong with the image until it was overanalyzed by an anonymous fan.
We live in a touchy world, and for good reason. Racial tensions are high, but sometimes I feel as though we are so hypersensitive — so keenly focused on color — that all we see is color. We take offense where no offense was meant, and we hone in on subliminal messages that don’t really exist.
In Kylie’s own words, “this is a black light and neon lights people lets all calm down.” Indeed, let’s all calm down, and let’s focus on the many actual forms of racism that exist abundantly in our society. Let’s not focus on the innocent makeup and lighting choices made by a reality TV star.