Why White People Can’t Quit Blackface

Julianne Hough wears blackface for her Halloween costume

Before I saw those pictures of her online Monday morning I didn’t know who Julianne Hough was. Even after Googling her, I’m still not entirely sure. Ballroom dancer and country music singer? Which is it, Julianne, did you have a hit song or were you just on Dancing With the Stars? In any case, this weekend Julianne learned an important lesson in the life of the demi-celebrity, which is that there’s a downside to being constantly photographed: when you screw up—say, by donning blackface to dress as your favorite Orange is the New Black character—everybody sees it. Next thing you know, people on Twitter are calling you racist and bloggers are questioning your professional accomplishments. Who has time for that? Not Julianne Hough, who no doubt has a voice and/or samba lesson to get to.

I believe Hough’s sad, bewildered apology for her mistake was sincere. As a person of color, I don’t feel angry about her tasteless Halloween getup, I just feel sort of confused. I don’t think she chose the costume with conscious racist intent, but nonetheless, she chose it, and in doing so voluntarily transgressed one of the most clearly articulated rules of American race relations: white people don’t get to wear blackface, ever. Not ironically, not humorously, not in homage (sorry, Julianne). Yet it’s almost an annual ritual, this public shaming of blindsided whites who, despite mountains of available evidence showing that blackface is a punishable offense, at some point in mid-October just shrug their shoulders and decide to go for it. 

White people: this is such an easy mistake to avoid. Your choice of Halloween costume is as silly and inconsequential as it gets, whereas defying such a culturally significant prohibition will always be extremely consequential. So—besides a willful blindness to some pretty basic facts of American history—why all the unforced errors? I’m not talking about the racists who knowingly use blackface to demean. Those people are gross, but at least I understand their motives. What’s bizarre is that the mild-mannered, well-intentioned Julianne Houghs of the world can be so clueless in their persistent attachment to a behavior that is at once so trivial and so serious. 

A comic showing three people dressed up in racist Halloween costumes at a party. In the last frame, a Mexican girl attending says, "This is one of those parties where I drink in the corner alone."

From "Liberty for All" — Created by Julio Salgado and written by Tina Vasquez.

As I was puzzling this out, I was reminded of a moment earlier this year when another well-intentioned person got in hot water for pointlessly breaking a rule he should have known better than to mess with.

Remember back in April when President Obama straight up called California Attorney General Kamala Harris a hottie at a fundraiser? Yeah, that was perplexing. Perplexing because Obama has been a staunch public champion of women’s rights, and doubly so because he had already gotten in trouble once for similarly patronizing behavior, so there’s no way he didn’t understand what he was doing. But he did it anyway, and suffered the fallout (he at least had the good grace not to act surprised). 

Let me pause to clarify that I’m not saying that wearing blackface and calling a colleague hot are identical acts, or perfectly analogous. But I think some of the same social dynamics are at play in both cases. Why was Obama willing to risk public censure—not to mention the ire of the all-important “women’s vote”—to do something so meaningless as bestow a gratuitous compliment? And why, moreover, do men so zealously defend the right to say those things, inevitably telling women to chill out or “take a compliment” when we explain, for the fifty-millionth time, that we’d really prefer not to have our looks assessed in a professional context? If it’s such a minor thing, dudes, then why don’t you just stop it?

The conclusion I reached after Kamala-gate was that as silly or unimportant as such incidents may seem, they are in fact a very public exercise of social power. Not symbolic power, either—actual power, exerted in real time. The power to diminish a woman’s accomplishments and reduce her to her looks. What makes this kind of behavior so hard to confront, let alone combat, is that the people using their power this way often honestly don’t recognize what they’re doing, and they don’t believe you when you point it out.

So every October, when someone inevitably pops up in blackface and critics call them out, there’s always a small but indignant chorus of voices, like this one on Thought Catalog, who can’t see what all the fuss is about. Halloween’s a game and costumes mean nothing, so can’t we all just chill and have some good old-fashioned blackface fun? But take a moment to consider why wearing blackface, or appropriating any ethnic identity, is so alluring. People want to feel the freedom of being someone else, existing in a magical space where real-life roles don't matter and history is suspended. But our history was bloody and the damage it caused is still playing out today, so suspending that reality, even for a night, is a hazardous game. 

I don’t think Julianne Hough set out to offend people of color, or Uzo Aduba, the actress who actually plays Crazy Eyes and who is actually black. She just really, really wanted to wear that costume, wanted it enough to silence the whispers she must have heard deep down, warning her that this might not end well. She wanted, just for a night, to rat her hair and darken her skin, to slide into that orange jumpsuit and claim a part of that alien experience as her own, all while staying safely hidden behind the cultural power that allowed her to play at oppression that way.

Power is delicious. Exercising power is pleasurable. In the moment when we’re making the choice to wield power, what matters to us is that power feels good, and when something makes us feel good we’ll always want to do it again—and we’ll resist if people try to stop us. Which is why a certain blonde singer/actress/ballroom dancer is having a very hard week, and why she may never truly understand why.


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Comments

40 comments have been made. Post a comment.

"What makes this kind of

"What makes this kind of behavior so hard to confront, let alone combat, is that the people using their power this way often honestly don’t recognize what they’re doing, and they don’t believe you when you point it out."

so perfectly worded!

Agreed. good stuff.

Agreed. good stuff.

What actions

What black face? I want to color my skin to have a dark tan. I am not saying this mockingly either.

so perfectly worded?

you mean perfectly good beach vacation

"But... but... last year I

"But... but... last year I went as a pickle and I painted my face green and no one had a problem with THAT!"

The claim that she did this

The claim that she did this as an homage is insincere. The character she chose to play is a racist, comic caricature, in a show that's all about high status white people enjoying race and class tourism. A high status white woman claiming she's paying "homage" to Crazy Eyes, when she has far more in common with Piper--sounds like a delusion she's chosen to protect her conscience. It would still be racist to "blacken up" to portray a genuine black icon, but one could at least believe then that it was an ill-conceived attempt at homage. But this, this is actually straight up minstrelsy.

Question re black face costume

Is the problem that she dressed up as a black character or that she used black face to do so? If she had dressed up as the character on Orange is the New Black without tinting her skin would that have been okay? Or is a white person portraying a black person completely taboo?

I can see, for example, children wanting to be their favourite basketball or football player who may be black. What if they wore the correct jersey, etc. but did not paint their faces? If they are white are their parents supposed to tell them they can't do that? Many public figures are people of colour I would imagine white children admire them and would want to dress as them for Halloween (I've given out candy to kids dressed up as sports figures, but didn't ask them who they are). How do you tell them it's disrespectful for them to dress up as black people but not disrespectful to dress up as white people?

People can of course dress up

People can of course dress up as people of other races for Halloween. It's the painting the face that is the problem. If the costume isn't good enough to tell who the person is supposed to be without painting the face it's probably just not a good costume. http://www.buzzfeed.com/tracyclayton/14-times-people-dressed-as-people-o...

But it's not just the

But it's not just the painting of the face that causes damage. Other things, like sexualisation are damaging to minorities too. Maybe this didn't happen with Hough's costume, but it happens with so many, and it's not okay.

Facts Matter

I don't doubt that people might be offended, hurt or angered by her costume, but it's not exactly "Blackface". Here's a pic of what Blackface REALLY looked like for comparison:

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/blackface_3910.jpg

Blackface depicts a "stereotyped caricature" of Black people (according to Wikipedia)...not someone dressing up as a specific character from a TV series. Crazy Eyes is a real person, not some nameless, faceless caricature. Was it tasteless and insensitive? Probably, but to compare it Blackface--which was specifically created to humiliate and stereotype a whole group of people--is inaccurate.

Thank you FF. I was very

Thank you FF. I was very uncomfortable reading this, as I was thinking exactly the same thing. So much genuine racism, sexism and and everything else has been massively diminished / negated in recent years, because so many people haphazardly use and accuse. We have genuine issues to deal with, issue rising from this misuse.

I'm Sad That This Conversation Still Needs To Be Had

No. Painting one's skin to look like another race, is (insert ethnic group) face, white people can't deny the fact that that this woman tried to display herself as a person of color as part of a costume so now you're trying to derail and quantify what blackface is?! Are you serious? Just because she didn't smear black shoe polish on her face, doesn't me she's not in blackface.

As for the person that respond to you, on that this is not a case of "real racism" I question why someone who even feels this why would even read this website, is this not a place to dismantle and look at media representations of women, POC, LBGT, etc?

I find it problematic that not only did Hough feel the desire to paint her skin to mimic a woman of color, but wanted to dress up and one of the most dismissed and marginalized woman on Orange is the New Black. My heart broke when Suzanne asked Piper why people call her "Crazy Eyes". This woman, if given proper mental health care would be able to live a productive life, instead she is abused by a system that does not care at all about dealing with people with mental illnesses and is aliened from the other women in the prison. Are we still okay with viewing people with physical and mental disabilities as amusing?

I'm saddened to see that the comments on Bitch in regards to blackface are not that much different from what I could find on any other news source reporting this story, but this is why women of color need to have our voices heard and play a larger role the modern feminism movement.

I'm glad this piece is on here as it clearly struck a nerve and am thankful that some white women commenting on here get it. Even though I am a black woman, I still have many privileges and I hope Bitch continues to be an avenue where we can explore the power of privilege and how it hurts us all.

I want to like you but

You know, Bitch Media, I want to like you, I really do. I just keep getting the feeling I am not the kind of demographic you want: white, heterosexual, married with children. I think I am pretty open but it seems I must be not ethnically diverse enough, prolesbian (as contrasted with just a live and let live attitude) and definitely not angry enough.

This time you've gone too far, Bitch!!!

Hi, fellow straight white woman! Truly it is we whose voices are silenced the most in our society.

But for serious, I'm not really sure how you read this post as "angry" rather than "fatigued and annoyed." This may seem like a hypothetical or an unnecessary topic, but it actually affects other people. My pale ass is exhausted by the outrageously racist things people do while protesting that it's no big deal, so I'm pretty sure it sucks from the perspective of people who are actually being belittled and otherized by it.

This wasn't a hysterical article. It read like a fairly sedate encapsulation of a horse that will not die because ignorant people keep shocking it back to life. Do you have any complaints about it beyond the fact that it's concerned primarily with racism rather than sticking with some weird model of equality where that shit doesn't matter?

Response to "Blackface" -isms: race and gender issues in America

Dear Press, Media, Journalist,

Please inspire us to be better than this! We don't need reminders of pathetic societal failings or clumsy media grabbing. We need role models, noble souls, and cultural mentors who lead us to think progressively.

American race relations are special. It's gender issues are special. American issues are special. Nowhere else in the world does media give so much attention to the hue and cry of a celebrated and self-celebrated few than in the USA. We must move on and progress toward a cultured and educated society by celebrating its diversity and cultural wealth, not by whining about demi-celebs hustling for press or wannabes who can't get past the glass ceiling. Save the press for the deserving few. The glass ceiling will shatter if you're strong enough. Give merit to those who deserve it, don't gratuitously pander to those who don't (you risk becoming just like them). We deserve nothing less.

Should we really be praising

Should we really be praising those who manage to play the game properly and break through the glass ceiling, instead of critiquing the need for women to "get past the glass ceiling." Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but it seems like the point of feminism, which Bitch is advocating for, is that we should not be praising the women, people of color, and other oppressed individuals who manage to "make it work" in an oppressive society, but rather that we should be working to change the society so that there is no unearned privilege, and oppressed peoples should not have to fight to get the same starting point.

The reason to call out people who are behaving in unintentionally racist behaviors is not to give them undeserved press, or even to shame them for their behaviors, but to try and create a culture in which no one can say "I didn't know this wasn't okay" and demonstrate solidarity among oppressed communities. We live in a society in which a couple of kids can become internet famous for putting on blackface and posting tasteless and offensive pictures of themselves on facebook. That makes it vital for us (especially those with white privilege) to call them out, and say "This is not okay." Ignoring offensive behavior, whether intentional or not, only empowers the people acting offensively to continue acting offensively. It's a mark of privilege to be able to ignore racist, sexist, homophobic, trans*phobic, ect. behavior, because we can only afford to ignore it because it is not a threat to us personally. Because we, personally, haven't been beaten or raped or denied basic rights because of who we are, so to us it's just a word, or just a costume.

Feminism has an unfortunate

Feminism has an unfortunate history of diminishing or outright ignoring people of color. Bitch is my favorite feminist publication because they know this, acknowledge this, and regularly publish and promote critical articles written by, for, and about people of color. Those articles are as much for you, as a white person, as they are for anyone else.

As a white woman, I'm grateful for articles like this. It allows me to see and understand my privilege. While I alone cannot change the complex, interwoven power structures that shape the culture I live in, I can be a small voice that contributes to positive change. Key in that is overcoming my own ignorance so I can move through life in a way that is respectful, where I have the knowledge to avoid obliviously exercising my privilege as much as possible. I'm still working on it, I'm not perfect, but I'll never just throw in the towel and decide that it's not my responsibility to listen.

I don't understand why you would find an article like this to be so alienating. Maybe you're not yet as open-minded as you believe yourself to be. I hope you take the time to really consider what's at work here, making you feel "not enough", because it's not anything in this or any other article.

Who will think of the married straight white women?

I want to like you. I really do. I just keep getting the feeling you're the perfect classical feminist; a self-righteous and entitled brat who doesn't care about anyone who isn't exactly like them. Feminism revolved around you for a long, long time at the active expense of everyone else and here you are, wondering why you're no longer solely in the spotlight.

You're not angry enough because you have it good. You're not brown, gay, trans*, single. Look at you. Why should you give a shit? Those are 'other women'. You're a 'woman'.

Move along, now. Feminism needs to evolve and you're slowing it down.

Best. Comment response.

Best. Comment response. Ever.

@Samuels, I love you for using snark for the side of good.

Wow, I second @Samuels

Wow, I second @Samuels comment :"who will think of the married, straight white woman". From one white hetero married lady with kids (I'm lookin' at YOU Michelle) to another, MOVE ON.

I'm a (mostly) Caucasian

I'm a (mostly) Caucasian woman married to a Caucasian man and I identify as heterosexual, which is one reason (among many) why Bitch is so important to me. Their articles expose me to perspectives on race, sexuality, class and feminism that I don't necessarily encounter with my friends and colleagues. Even when I don't agree with the opinions of certain writers, reading differing viewpoints allows me to gain a deeper understanding of my own ideas and beliefs. I respect Ms. Hayes for bringing attention to a societal problem that refuses to die. Fighting ignorance wherever you find it is essential in bringing about social change. If a certain article doesn't cater to your specific situation, it doesn't mean you need to dismiss the entire publication or website. I'm grateful there are good feminist writers like Ms. Hayes who give me insight into perspectives other than my own. I will continue to support Bitch as long as I can afford it and I'm so thankful to everyone involved in the creation and maintenance of Bitch Media and its content.

Julianne Hough as Crazy Eyes

"Lighten up Francis" A line from a movie where one intolerable person wants to be called "Psycho". He is quickly brought to reality by his Sergeant. Yes, lighten up Francis. I had no idea who this Crazy Eyes was till I saw this article and looked it up. Hough is merely portraying a character as a Halloween theme. Does it mean one cannot portray anyone who appears on TV or a movie. When a heavy set person dresses up as Spider-man or Super-man, are people going to say it is wrong? When Eddie Murphy dresses as an old Jewish guy, like he did in "Coming to America, will that be offensive to Jewish folks everywhere. Lighten up people. Follow the flow and smile. No black-face character here. No Al Jolson here in this. If one follows this mantra, a woman cannot go as Gennie, in I Dream of Gennie because it is offensive to Middle Easterners. One cannot go as Gandhi because it is offensive to Indians. Not to mention Pocahontas or anything else. "Lighten up Francis", it is Halloween, and from the video I saw about Crazy Eyes, the only mistake Hough made was going as such a "Skank", not because she is black, African American or what other designation one wishes to call her.

Free Republic is leaking?

Free Republic is leaking?

Nothing you said has any

Nothing you said has any meaning if you spell "Jeannie" as "Gennie." TWICE.

And also because your strawman is particularly hollow. But mostly the first thing.

The big deal is the big deal

I understand it's a sensitive issue. A long time ago idiot white people would put blackface on and dance around like idiots to laugh at black people. So not cool. But there's a difference between doing that and dressing up in costume to look like someone else. People dress up to look Native American and might use a darker pigment foundation to look more accurate. Dressing up as a black person would require looking like them. So I know I'm just another insensitive white person (for the record I've never dressed up in black face, but I make a great Asian) but people need to get over it. If someone dresses up as the KKK I'm with you, WTF? But if someone is just being a character in a show or a celebrity then what's the big deal? They are supposed to look like them. That's why it's called a costume.

It is not ok for someone to

It is not ok for someone to change their skin color for a costume. It's just not. Be your favorite characters. Just don't put on paint of dark makeup to look like another race. It offends. Isn't that enough of a reason. I get so bothered when peeps are all like, "what's the big deal?" Hellloooooo, something is offending people so clearly you are not seeing it. Open up your eyes, be kind and sensitive to others? Duh. #checkyoprivledge

you're obviously upset that

you're obviously upset that someone would say that you shouldn't do this stupid thing, why don't YOU get over it? oh, right, it's because your feelings about this thing that has no impact on your life are real and valid, unlike those of anyone who disagrees with you, even though they have to live their lives immersed in this stuff.

if you're dressing up as a specific person of another race, there are a billion characteristics more relevant to their individual identity and accomplishments than skin color. if your costume relies on skin color as an identifying characteristic it's a thoughtless and shitty reduction of a person's identity down to their race. and on the other hand, dressing up as a generic member of another racial/ethnic group is dehumanizing as fuck. don't ever tell someone to 'get over' something. it's not your business to tell people how to feel, especially when you have no idea what you're talking about.

People are beaten, harassed and killed for having brown skin.

When a white person puts it on for a few hours without any of the consequences, it shows a blatant disregard for what people of color go through.

People of color who would do anything to strip off the brown skin that gives them so much grief every day of their lives...but can't.

Please, tell someone with a crushed leg to 'get over it' because YOUR leg is just fine. See how well that goes.

(also, LOL at " People dress up to look Native American and might use a darker pigment foundation to look more accurate." All Native Americans look the same, am I right?)

Some of these comments... yeesh

I'm a bit appalled by some of the comments here. Although I've seen similar comments on every article about this topic, somehow I hoped the readers of Bitch Media would be different. Silly me.

What is gained by pointing out that this isn't the same blackface used in minstrel shows of the late 19th/early 20th centuries? It's blackface nonetheless. It's a person who has privilege by virtue of her race using makeup to play at being a member of an exploited, marginalized race. As Camille insightfully notes, doing that is an exercise of power. It makes people of color feel caricatured and othered.

Why is it not enough when someone says, "This harms me," to stop the harmful act? Nothing -- I mean literally NOTHING -- of value is lost. The protective reaction makes me believe that Camille has hit the nail squarely on the head in this piece. Power is pleasurable, and it's evidently a difficult pleasure to give up without resistance.

I couldn't agree more. If the

I couldn't agree more. If the prevailing wisdom of the black community says " Don't do black-face. It's offensive and belittling", why is it so difficult to trust that they might be right ? Even if you just really, really, really don't get why black-face (or "face-darkening", if you don't like the common term) seems denigrating, how hard is it to just say, "Well, it seems like people feel really strongly about this, and I don't want to inadvertently make other people feel shitty , so maybe I'll be a smurf instead. " If it's no big deal to racially face-paint, it shouldn't be a big deal NOT to. And if it is, then why ? What's exactly do I lose if I choose another Halloween costume ?

Some of us truly do not understand

I'm the one who wrote the Thought Catalog article. When I asked the question in the title which was originally Is Anyone Actually Upset Over Julianne Hough's Halloween Costume, I wasn't being cute. I genuinely wanted to know. I had spoken to a number of people about it, black people included, and no one seemed to think it was a big deal. So it appeared to me that the bloggers who wrote about it were blowing a minor thing out of proportion in an effort to drive traffic and fill the need for content. Especially when they made leaps like inferring that Hough was doing this intentionally to cleverly exercise her hatred of black people. I also did not see what Hough was wearing as blackface. What I understood blackface to be was specific to the look used in minstrel shows. I honestly did not know that any darkening of one's face was viewed by many people as offensive.

Since reading the hundreds of comments the article has generated, I have changed my originally flippant attitude towards the subject. It had been made abundantly clear to me that any altercation of skin color as part of a costume or otherwise is extremely hurtful to some people and for me that is reason enough not to do it. But I wouldn't have known that had I not asked the question in the Thought Catalog post in the first place. So by writing it, I actually learned something.

However, the assigning of intent as malicious or power hungry seems to me, without reason. I can only speak personally when I say that I did not share my originally cavalier attitude towards the issue because I was mad for authority or silencing whispers. I did not know. Plain and simple.

Now I do. But only because of discussions like these.

Truth

I am yet another middle aged middle class honky cunt trying to make a point.

Many years ago on Halloween I took a large amount of acrylic paint and...you know the rest. There is nothing to defend. It was like Eddie Murphy or Halle Berry dressing white, or a guy dressing up in drag, transiting from one persona into another.

What is it like to be "black"? To live in black skin? I was fascinated by the differences, including cosmetics, and light disbursal on my skin, the reactions. I have pale eyes, but they looked oddly hazel. My own mother didn't recognize me. That night I went to a party that included people of diverse background, including my (female, black, activist) boss. They were genuinely curious and interested too.

It's been 30 years since that party, and the night I became a different person. I look into the eyes of a person of colour and in some small way, on a small level, I get it. Human beings.

Is this real life?

Intentional or otherwise this is the funniest goddamn comment I've ever read in my life. So let me get this straight? 30 years ago you slapped on some shoe polish at a Halloween party and now you "get" what it's like to be a person of color? Now you can finally acknowledge our basic humanity?

This is either some Jonathan Swift level shit or you have gone completely outside of your mind. Please just do me the favor of reassuring me you are not serious. I would rather be duped by a satirical comment than to live my life knowing that there is a fully grown adult out there in the world with wi-fi and a Bitch subscription who is this clueless.

Don't blame ALL white people

Don't blame all white people for being stupid, blame the person doing the stupid act or saying the stupid thing. I have met just as many stupid blacks, Asians, Mexicans, men and women that I have white people. Stupidity IS NOT color blind.

I'm so tired of you white

I'm so tired of you white people derailing the conversation with, "But not all white people..."

No one cares. If you're derailing with this, you're missing the lesson of this conversation—white people, their feelings and experiences, are not the end-all, be-all, and that there are, in fact, a whole other gamut of people constantly ignored and trampled on so white people can be paramount.

I understand why blackface is

I understand why blackface is inappropriate and offensive. It is because of this that I ask this: Why is men dressing up as women not equally as offensive?
Women were treated as slaves in North America too; they were the property of men used for sex, the caretaking of their husbands and children, and were often abused horribly. This is still going on today in many other parts of the world.
Historically women were never allowed roles in plays either. Instead, boys portrayed them by dressing up.
I am a woman,but when I see my guy friends dressed up as women for halloween, I am not offended by it. These guys are not sexist or misogynistic, they were portraying specific characters as well.
Why are these two costumes (dressing up as a black character and dressing up as a female character) viewed so differently?
Not trying to offend or belittle anyone, just trying to understand.

So first we need to divide as

So first we need to divide as a specific character vs. dressing up as a parody of a culture.

Costumes like a "cheeky Cherokee!!!! :D" or "a woman! lol" are problematic, because they feed on generalizations and stereotypes that are often negatively impacting on someone from that minority groups life. It's a sort of casual racism/sexism.

But what you seem to be describing is specific character so: if Julianne Hough's costume wasn't using blackface it wouldn't be the same thing. If she had just dressed as Crazy Eyes without relying on her race as her costume's only identifier than that would've made a difference. In my opinion it's not wrong for friends to dress as something specific if they aren't relying on generalizations/harmful stereotypes to do it.

Honestly, this is amazing to

Honestly, this is amazing to me. I think that finding it racist or wrong to be so comfortable with equality that you can cross skin pigments without an issue speaks of a person who is so NOT racist that they want to emulate and celebrate persons of another culture. That's like saying every time a black person dyes xir hair blonde or dons a wig for a costume that it is a form of racism. It isn't. The only people being racist are the people trying to segregate what you can or can't do based on your skin-tone.

Oh look

The obligatory ubiquitous post to inform us how pointing out sexism or racism is the REAL sexism and racism. Diaf.

I understand how poorly of a

I understand how poorly of a choice this is and how some people can find it offensive. "White Chicks" by the Wayne Brothers didn't create a controversy when they portrayed stupid blond Chicks. Race is still a huge issue in this country and not just a white/black thing.... People, educate yourself, respect others and live in peace.

Black Face and intent

There does seem to be a legitimate argument that not all examples of a person of one race masquerading as a person of anther race is Black face. In face it could be said that while black face of the past was clearly meant to ridicule black people (since no black people actually looked like that, it became a sort of American convention, so that you had instances of black face in countries that did not have America's race problems, but simply aped what the American's did.

There is a difference in honestly trying to look like someone, and trying to ridicule someone. Consider that in the entertainment world while you had instances of whites legitimately trying to disguise their features to portray Asian, and Native American's (something they did not do with African American you might note) it is still referred to as Yellow Face, or Red Face.