“Blackface” is the offensive practice of an individual darkening their skin tone with makeup or paint to perform a stereotyped version of Blackness in an attempt to mock, parody, alienate, vilify, and degrade members of the Black community. Blackface has a long and troubling history that dates back centuries, though the practice was popularized in the Southern United States during the antebellum era. It was commonly practiced by performers in minstrel shows in Canada and the United States, where racist archetypal characters such as “Mammy” and “Jim Crow” were portrayed by white performers. Performers using blackface would attempt to represent an exaggerated mimicry of Blackness, often portraying characters as happy, lazy, or hypersexualized. While the practice is regarded as highly offensive today, overt performances of blackface continue to occur. Social examples of blackface performance can include white individuals darkening their face for a Halloween “costume” or engaging in what is increasingly known as “digital blackface,” showing how deeply rooted this practice is in Canadian culture. For more, please see Galella, Williams-Witherspoon, Howard, The Secret Life of Canada.
Sources and Further Reading:
Galella, Donatella. “Artists of Color/Cross-Racial Casting.” Casting a Movement : The Welcome Table Initiative, edited by Claire Syler and Daniel Banks, Routledge, 2019, pp. 190-199, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429488221.
Howard, Phillip S. S. “Blackface in Canada.” AAPR McGill, 2017, www.mcgill.ca/aapr/blackface-canada.
Rocca, Ryan. “Teacher Who Wore Blackface ‘no Longer Employed’ by Toronto District School Board.” Global News, 17 Nov. 2021, www.globalnews.ca/news/8382178/teacher-who-wore-blackface-no-longer-employed-tdsb/.
Thompson, Cheryl. “Casting Blackface in Canada: Unmasking the History of ‘White and Black’ Minstrel Shows.” Canadian Theatre Review, vol. 193, Winter 2023, In Publication.
“What’s the Deal with Blackface?” The Secret Life of Canada from CBC, 10 June 2020, www.cbc.ca/listen/cbc-podcasts/203-the-secret-life-of-canada.
Williams-Witherspoon, Kimmika. “Blacks on Stage: Are We Still Replicating Stereotypes from the Legacy of Minstrelsy.” Praxis, 2013, https://praxis.journals.villanova.edu/article/view/1425/1330.