Monday, November 01, 2010

Shaq, Dwayne Wade, and Hoopz: Blackface and Drag

Dwyane Wade’s whiteface Halloween spectacle is generating headlines.  Wade, painted in stark white make-up with a parakeet yellow beard as accessory, partied this weekend in Justin Timberlake drag.  Wade’s get-up has sparked interesting debates regarding racial imitation.

Certainly, whiteface does not have the same racist, mocking history as blackface.  Recall:  blackface minstrelsy and films such as A Nigger in the Woodpile (1904) or Birth of a Nation (1915).  However, histories are constantly being created, and whiteface is just as racially divisive as blackface.  That is, unless Wade’s masquerade is some weird celebration of whiteness—a show of love, rather than theft, to paraphrase scholar Eric Lott …but, sorting out that madness is for another time.

Wade wasn’t the only celeb to play dress-up this weekend.  Shaquille O’Neal also opted for mimicry by costuming himself as “Shaqeeta” in a stripey black and grey dress and fake boobs drag.

Together, Wade and Shaq, raise important questions about racial, gender, and sexual appropriation.  To put it another way:  Wade, a black male, decided to play a white man for a day.  He was photographed with a sistah’—hopefully she was not supposed to play Janet Jackson to Wade’s Timberlake.  Shaq, a black man, choose to be a black woman for the day.  Big Shaq was to viewed seen as being comical—just like Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma and Shenenah, Tyler Perry’s Madea, Eddie Murphy’s Rasputia, Jamie Foxx’s Wanda….you get the picture.  The joke is once again on black women.

It gets even odder.  Shaq’s rumored extra special BFF, Hoopz from Flavor of Love “fame,” outfitted herself as—get this—a pregnant dude. 

One has to wonder what’s behind such racial, gender, and sexual borrowing.  Shaq, tell me, is this some form of gender “desire”?  Dwyane, was whiteness so irresistible you needed to “suit up” in it?  Hoopz, please tell me your get-up is about disrupting gender and sexual boundaries.  You are giving us a smack down for inappropriately obsessing over what track athlete Caster Semenya has between her legs, as well punishing us for watching out for women’s’ “baby bumps”—right????

It would be great if these folks were challenging social norms and boundaries.  However, they don’t seem to be; they’re just straight up clowin’.  But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t use this moment as a way to continue discussions about mimicry as it intersects with the politics of race, gender, sexuality and power.  Your thoughts?