Every now and again, society adds a new group of people to the list of those at whom it is no longer acceptable to poke fun. Recently, it became transgender people. Caitlyn Jenner completed her transformation and all of a sudden, she was beautiful and a hero and anyone who said words other than that was shamed.
For a few years now it has been unfashionable to mock homosexuals. Obviously some jokes are okay, but plenty are not, especially those that can be seen as hateful and those that could cause violence against said group. Sometimes it’s hard to see the line and determine whether a joke crosses it. I’m not one to praise political correctness, but plenty of groups have had to contend with a raw deal, and I can understand taking it easy on such groups to avoid adding insult to injury. Despite the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, race is still an issue across the world. While jokes are still made at the expense of all races, there is a line these days, and when someone crosses it, they are a pariah. One of the most notorious methods of anti-black racism that rears its ugly head every so often is “blackface”. For those not familiar with this ongoing controversy, “blackface” refers to the application of dark makeup (and sometimes effects designed to make one’s lips look larger) to make someone look African-American. Blackface was always in poor taste, but it wasn’t until a few decades ago that people actually realized it.
While it was a mainstream method of show business over a century ago, it is now generally recognized as one of those things nobody is allowed to do anymore. Still however, plenty of celebrities haven’t received the memo. Here is a list of those celebrities and an account of each of their blackface offenses.
10. Kylie Jenner
While I’m not a fan of any of the Kardashians or Jenners, I’ll try to remain neutral while discussing the young Kylie Jenner’s blackface controversy earlier this year.
She posted a picture in Instagram in which a photographer had used lighting and makeup effects that ended up making her complexion look darker. She drew criticism for this almost immediately, and quickly pointed out that her intention was not to offend people, and that accusations of blackface were unfounded. She took some more heat for telling people to “calm down” rather than apologizing, but who’s surprised, that family will never apologize for anything.
9. Robert Downey Jr.
No stranger to controversy, actor Robert Downey Jr. appeared in blackface for Ben Stiller’s war-comedy, Tropic Thunder. The film is about a screen adaptation of a Vietnam veteran’s war memoirs. There was plenty of controversy, but the purpose of this makeup choice involved the fact that he was playing an Australian actor who had undergone pigmentation therapy to appear African-American to play the part of a black soldier in the war.
Many critics praised his performance as brilliant and hilarious, but there were many who also hated the fact that he wore blackface makeup, comparing its use to the use of pejorative terms in terms of acceptability.
8. Ted Danson
For those reading this who were born recently, Ted Danson is an American actor and comedian. He was on a show called Cheers ages ago, and more recently played roles on C.S.I. and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Back in 1993, he participated in a New York Friars Club Roast. He was roasting fellow comedian Whoopi Goldberg, with whom he was in a relationship at the time. For those who are unfamiliar, these roasts celebrate a person’s success and usually involve the most tasteless, crude, offensive humor the participants can think up.
This was no different, as Danson dressed in blackface, used multiple African-American stereotypes in his monologue, and used the dreaded N-word a dozen times. Goldberg herself was howling with laughter, and said that she helped him write it, but basically everyone present was offended and nearly every critic out there criticized him for his humor.
7. Sarah Silverman
Comic genius Sarah Silverman dressed in blackface on her show almost a decade ago. The episode itself was intended to demonstrate how unacceptable blackface was, and to poke fun at the controversy itself. Most comedians will tell you, a major part of their craft is pushing the envelope and few things are off limits. Silverman’s blackface appearance on her show was obviously not meant to hurt anyone, but as with any such appearance, even if it is well-intentioned, she endured plenty of criticism as a result.
6. Chuck Knipp
Chuck Knipp is a Canadian-American comedian who ranks among the most offensive people ever to make a living in comedy. He has dressed in blackface and in drag for his act. He has indicated that his brand of humor is controversial, but he believes that comedy is a great tool to heal emotional scars and insists that he does not mean any of his performances to insult or cause hurt.
His character Shirley Q. Liquor is a welfare queen. She is massive, African-American and has over a dozen children. His act has been protested across the United States and many of his shows have been cancelled, but still he claims that his intent is to foster better race relations and bring people together.
5. Claudia Schiffer
Beautiful German model and fashion icon Claudia Schiffer, has been an influential figure in her business for over 20 years and shocked the industry by using blackface makeup back in 2010. She appeared on the cover of a German fashion magazine sporting dark makeup and an afro wig. Her publicist claimed that the picture had been taken out of context, and that the pictures were intended to portray her in a series of male fantasies. As we’re gradually learning, blackface is offensive regardless of context.
4. Billy Crystal
Billy Crystal is one of the most beloved figures in American comedy and has been active in the business for over forty years. He’s won more awards than one can name and hosted the Oscars nine times. During his most recent Oscar hosting experience, in 2012, when he dressed in blackface makeup while pretending to be singer Sammy Davis Jr.
The performance earned Crystal and the Academy Awards show itself criticism due to the fact that Crystal replaced Eddie Murphy as the host after Murphy was criticized for his use of gay slurs. Crystal was the safe choice and still did something many found appalling.
3. Tyler Bozak and Raffi Torres
Making our way into the top three, this duo of hockey players committed very similar blackface offenses in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2011 it was Raffi Torres wearing blackface as part of a Halloween costume intended to look like rapper Jay-Z, and in 2012 Tyler Bozak used dark makeup to look like Michael Jackson. Both insisted that their costumes were not meant to be offensive, as they were fans of the musicians. In their defense, they’re hockey players, a group of people not known for social or political savvy, But at the same time, they probably should have Googled “black face makeup” before making their choices.
2. Joni Mitchell
A Canadian musical icon, Joni Mitchell posed as a black man for the cover of her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Get ready to go cross-eyed, because when asked about it earlier this year she said she feels an “affinity” to black men because she had “experienced being a black guy on multiple occasions”.
This is one of those times when being a somewhat obscure figure (now) and being a woman in her 70s were convenient circumstances, because nobody really took much note of these statements. She was mocked on Twitter but didn’t really experience too much backlash. Her claim of “solidarity” may be well-intended, but it was received as a weird and offensive thing to say whether she’s an eccentric musical legend or not.
1. Julianne Hough
Our number one is one of the United States’ best known dancers, Julianne Hough. She is famous for winning Dancing with the Stars twice and she’s also famous for her singing career. Back in 2013 she dressed as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, a character on Orange is the New Black. Rather than just sticking with the orange jumpsuit and silly hair, she opted for blackface makeup as well, offending many people. She apologized on Twitter a couple of days later.