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MU Reiterates Black Face Position Statement

The reiteration comes following the Arena di Verona’s summer festival’s decision to darken performers skin for their roles in Verdi’s Aida, and their subsequent defence of this decision.

Published: 18 July 2022 | 2:57 PM Updated: 20 July 2022 | 11:03 AM
Golden opera mask and a white wooden fan on a bright turquoise background
Using make up or costume to mimic an ethnicity other than your own is never acceptable and will always be considered racist. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The MU exists to protect musicians’ rights and to create a fairer music industry. Campaigning for the rights of all musicians is integral to the work of the MU.

The aim of this position statement is to:

  • Educate members and raise awareness of issues of performing in “blackface”
  • Help members arrive at an artistic decision that is not offensive, discriminatory or oppressive
  • Allow members to make informed choices regarding make up and costume
  • To promote equality, respect and dignity for all musicians

Where a complaint is made in relation to discriminatory behaviours the MU will always investigate and if necessary, take action.

What is “blackface”?

“Blackface” is a term used to describe a performer, typically with white skin, who uses make up or costume to change the colour of their skin or appropriate features associated with an ethnicity other than their own.

“Blackface” is an out-of-date type of performance, rooted in racism, in which black people were mocked for the entertainment of white people. It perpetuated negative stereotypes through crude, dehumanising and degrading portrayals of ethnic minorities.

Blackface can also be known as “brownface” (Indian cultures), “yellowface” (Asian cultures) or “redface” (Native American cultures) depending on the ethnicity of the person being mimicked.

Racism is unfortunately still very present in our society. Using make-up to perform as someone of a different ethnicity is racist and is essentially using someone's ethnicity as a costume. Ethnicity is not a costume, reducing people to a costume dehumanises them.

Some people who have participated in this practice may not consider themselves racist or justify it through creative licence, paying homage to someone or celebrating an ethnicity. However, “blackface” is never neutral, it is not a way to pay homage to someone or to celebrate an ethnicity and can never be justified by creative licence.

Whatever the justification is for performing in “blackface”, it does not change the impact it has on people of all ethnicities or an audience’s perception of the performer.

The MU rejects claims that complaints about “blackface” are oversensitive, politically correct or people “playing the race card”. Using make up or costume to mimic an ethnicity other than your own is never acceptable and will always be considered racist.

Performing in “blackface”

The MU would urge its members to consider the history of “blackface” and the impact it has on people before choosing to perform.

Any MU member who is asked to perform in “blackface” should contact their regional office for advice.

Stand up to racial inequality in music by becoming a member of the MU

Becoming an MU member means that you are making an impact on issues such as the diversification of curriculum and syllabi, reporting on the Ethnicity Pay Gap, and the fair and equal representation of all musicians.

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