Ballerina Misty Copeland spoke up regarding the practice of blackface/brownface in her profession. Please read her powerful thoughts, as well as a first person testimony from dancer Dana Nichols, who tells a compelling real life experience of being dressed in blackface for a performance.
It takes courage to speak up in a society where the concerns of minorities are sometimes ignored, laughed at, or challenged as being overly sensitive. I commend both these brave women.
Here’s Misty Copeland’s response to this continued practice:
While Misty Copeland is getting support for speaking out she’s also getting some very ugly, racist responses that condone this “tradition.” Check out an example of the responses (many in Russian) on her Facebook page:
Here’s dancer Dana Nichol’s first person account in Dance Magazine:
“I must have been the only dark-skinned person to have been in a Mariinsky production. The women in charge weren’t sure what to do with me. I saw the white dancers around me covering themselves in the brown paint and distinctly remember being at a loss for words because it was so bizarre. It was especially the red lipstick traced around the mouth that disturbed me. I remember looking down at the paints and trying to figure out what they had to do with me. All I could manage to say was, “Do I need this?”
I became that thing in the room that no one had ever had to confront.”
Damn. While I’ve never been through this kind of experience, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable and cringe worthy life dramas. Most of them had to do with being a female and a female of color.
Speaking up always contains a risk. But not speaking up can also weigh heavily, even years later. Again, I thank them both, and all others who decide to question or challenge harmful “traditions.”
CNN has an article on the response to Misty Copeland’s Instagram post:
“After legendary ballerina Misty Copeland called out the Bolshoi Theatre for its use of blackface in performances, the theatre told Russian state-run media that it would continue the practice despite the criticism. . . ”
I can only hope that conversation continues regarding this hurtful practice. I’m not naive to think it will completely stop. But this could be a teachable moment.