From cultural appropriation to the utter lack of top Black models, the fashion industry has consistently slighted the Black community to the point where improvement seems hopeless. Using blackface in particular is a major way the fashion world offends Black people, despite the fact that it's the easiest thing to avoid.
Unfortunately, extreme tanning and applying heavy bronzer to mimic darker skin has been used as a way to draw in audiences for centuries, whether it's on stage or on social media, and its use shows how racism still lingers in fashion to this day.
Minstrels were dependent on racial stereotypes (and stealing from Black people) in order to be successful.
Rice and his contemporaries relied on stealing actual songs or performing exaggerated imitations of slaves in order to keep their shows on the road. Originality was definitely lacking, but they clearly didn't care — originality wasn't the appeal. Racism was. "It was a top-notch variety show performed in blackface and [B]lack dialect. Race was a central part of its initial and enduring appeal," Toll said. "With their ludicrous dialects, grotesque makeup, bizarre behavior, and simplistic caricatures, minstrels portrayed blacks as totally inferior," he noted.
Following the Civil War, slaves entered the minstrel industry to play the white performers at their own game, even if that meant being stuck with the old stereotypes.
In order for white performers to value Black talent, Black actors were restricted to performing stereotypes. "Because of minstrelsy, then, [B]lack people became part of American show business. Initially, they were limited to stereotyped roles and given little credit for their performing skills," Toll said. "But they had a foot in the door and could begin their long struggle to modify and break free of the patterns and images imposed on them by white minstrels."
Blackface didn't end all together with Black performers joining the shows. it simply moved into new mediums in the next century.
Despite traditional minstrel shows losing popularity by the end of the 1800s, blackface still occurred in other art forms. "New media ushered minstrel performances from the stage, across radio and television airwaves, and into theaters," the NMAAHC page noted.
The problems persist in the beauty world, too, where blackface is treated as flattery.
As Revelist reported in 2017, makeup artist @notcatart created a Blackface look and captioned it, "F— MY WHITE SKIN! WHITE TO DARK...I love skin of all colors and this look is inspired from it[.] That we all are beautiful[.] And I wanna show you how it's beautiful...love it!" Yeah, it was bad.
Modern-day techniques such as camera lighting, filters, tanning, and bronzer also complicate things.
Campaign images where stars have darkened their skin, not to directly imitate Blackness but for artistic purposes, have caused social media to view blackface in a new way.
Kim Kardashian was accused of blackface in 2017 due to her looking darker in some of her KKW Beauty images. After the controversy, she "revised" the images so that she "appear[ed] to be closer to her natural skin tone," according to Insider.
In an interview with the New York Times, Kardashian explained that she was "really tan" and that "it might be that the contrast was off." She also stated, "I would obviously never want to offend anyone."
Although Kardashian clearly wasn't trying to be Black in the same way that Schiffer was with her drastically darker skin and afro, it was still off-putting considering that Kardashian has been accused of appropriating Black culture multiple times in the past. She has frequently used Black culture or styles to look "cooler," so it's easy to see why people think that influence carried into the KKW Beauty photos.
With many brands, including KKW Beauty itself, getting heat for lacking a wide shade range for its products, it's ironic that some brands would take creative license and portray themselves in a "tanned" manner when they often lack products for dark-skinned consumers.
Another infamous accusation of blackface in beauty occurred with the Jeffree Star Cosmetics Androgyny ad campaign.
When fans noticed how Dragun looked drastically darker in the images, many called it blackface. Dragun, who is a transgender woman of color, stated on Twitter that she "normally get[s] extremely tan" since she's "half Mexican [and] half [Southeast] Asian." She concluded her tweet by arguing, "[L]et's not trip over a spray tan."
But as Revelist noted at the time, photographer Marcelo Bantu has a tendency to darken models, including in his work with Kylie Jenner. That seems like a problematic trend.
Rather than dipping models in shoe polish like in the 19th century, bronzer, spray tanning, black lights, and the like have simply replaced traditional blackface, with creative freedom being the justification.
Just like Thomas D. Rice, some creatives may momentarily adopt darker skin in order to draw in their audiences.
"Because as long as white remains the 'default' race — the ethnicity that isn't — temporarily portraying them as [B]lack doesn't prove we live in a post-racial society: it just demonstrates that white people are permitted to play with racial categories in ways that people of color are generally not," Jezebel pointed out.
It's important to note that dressing up as another race isn't a form of flattery, but there is definitely a way to celebrate various races without copying them.
Models, creatives, and influencers need to use their status to celebrate and acknowledge their own cultures and skin tone, rather than imitating or excessively tanning in an attempt to recreate another.
As Duan said in her essay, social media adds "an additional responsibility" to those with a platform. "Models are no longer anonymous faces," Duan said. "Suddenly, models, including non-white models, become complicit and responsible in the aesthetics of race."
Those in the industry should be kept accountable, of course, but also shown how to utilize their status to highlight and celebrate their own culture, while simultaneously encouraging more Black and dark-skinned models to be cast.
Most importantly, people should remember that as long as someone's identity or career is reliant upon a filter or tan, then it could just as easily fade away.