Attention Thought Catalog: Blackface is always racist

A white female writer doesn't understand why Julianne Hough's blackface costume was offensive

Published October 30, 2013 9:40PM (EDT)

Thought Catalog, an Internet archive of rejected college applications curated by a group of toddlers, has published another idiotic piece as clickbait. Well, congratulations, Thought Catalog: Despite our best attempts to ignore you, you have nabbed the world's attention. Today's stupid contrarianism comes from Kelly Rheel, a white woman who does not understand why people are "actually upset over Julianne Hough dressing up as a black woman for Halloween?" (Which, by the way, is the insanely problematic title of her piece).

Rheel, who at some academic level understands why blackface is degrading, acknowledges her ignorance first by stating it, and then by demonstrating it:

Before I continue, let’s just get one thing out of the way. I am in fact, a white person. I’m not trying to pretend like I know what it is to be black in America and have to deal with a bunch of ignorant white nonsense on a regular basis but is this really one of those times? Like, honestly. I want to know. Because it seems like most of the people who are getting upset over Hough’s costume are white to begin with and it makes me want to say “chill out white people!” There’s plenty of actual racism going on in the world for you to freak out over and prove how not racist you are, but this probably isn’t your moment.

Her distinction between "actual racism" and all that other, REAL racism is reminiscent of the embarrassing LL Cool J and Brad Paisley song, "Accidental Racist." Rheel decides that Hough's blackface is innocuous because Hough is "a white woman getting what is essentially a heavy spray tan to more accurately portray her favorite character." According to Rheel, getting upset over this "seems like a trivialization of what blackface was in the first place."

Listen up, Kelly Rheel: Darkening your face to make yourself look more like a black person IS blackface. That action turns blackness into a costume; it is a nod to years of oppression in which blackface was used as a theatrical weapon against black people, as Salon's Brittney Cooper eloquently explains here. Always. If you're not "trying to pretend like I know what it is to be black in America," then please stop trying to pretend like you know what it is like to be black in America.

And even if you truly, truly don't understand why so many people were offended about a celebrity participating in something that is so historically rooted in racism, you still don't get to tell them to not be offended. Here, I defer to something "Totally Biased" host W. Kamau Bell said regarding race and the George Zimmerman murder trial:

“You need to listen to the story before you come to conclusions. The worst thing to say to a person of color is, ‘I don’t think that’s racist.’ I don’t think that’s your area. You can have an opinion but I don’t think you are the final word. That’s what’s missing, white people. You’ve got a lot of jobs” but should not have the ‘I know what’s racist’ job. I know what’s imperialism – that’s your job.”

Now will someone please explain to Ireland Baldwin why dressing up as a Native American chief for Halloween is racist? Restating the obvious is getting a bit tiresome.

By Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at

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Blackface Journalism Julianne Hough Orange Is The New Black Racism Thought Catalog Writing