You know how you dress up like Prince? You put on a purple coat.
Nobody’s gonna ask, “Who’s the white guy in the purple coat singing ‘Let’s Go Crazy?’” Everyone knows that guy is Prince. This is an easy one.
You know how you don’t dress up like Prince? You don’t darken your skin.
At the State Fair Grandstand earlier this month, Kris Vox, lead singer of over-the-top arena-rock tribute act Hairball—ah, what’s the most favorable spin to put on this? Let’s just say Vox took the unwise route of altering his complexion to compensate for a melanin deficiency.
That’s according to Jackie Renzetti’s well-reported story on the performance in the Hastings Star Gazette, which offers a number of valuable perspectives on the incident, including a sharp discussion of race and arena rock from U of M professor Elliott Powell.
And while the Minneapolis-based band may have intended their dress-up act as a tribute, their quotes in that story? It sounds like they’re calling a game of “Things Defensive White People Say” Bingo: “We don’t play the race card,” “If someone has a problem with it, don’t come to the show,” and, for some reason, a mention of Colin Kaepernick.
Look, I know talking about race can seem like a complicated issue, my fellow whites. (Not as complicated as living as a person of color, I suspect, but I digress.) Still, there are a couple things we all know are off limits. There’s that one word we never get to say. And we don’t get to put on blackface. That’s because there’s a long, ugly history behind the practice that we’ve gone over time and time again and…
You know what? Enough already. If your 6-year-old smeared dirt on his face and said “I’m Drake!” you wouldn’t call everyone over to show them how cute he was being, you’d shush him and grab a washcloth. Aren't there times when blackface is permitted? Maybe! Is your life is too short to obsess over questions like “Aren’t there times when the thing that’s almost always racist isn’t entirely racist?” Definitely!
It's highly unlikely that white folks darkening their skin to impersonate black entertainers will ever become an acceptable practice, but if anything changes, we'll let you know immediately. Till then, here's where you can buy the coat.