Zulu: “Our Traditional Makeup Is Not Blackface”

Photo by Derek Bridges

On Wednesday, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, Inc. released a statement attempting to clear up accusations that their traditional black makeup is akin to blackface minstrelsy.

“Unfortunately the offensive conduct of (individuals who costume in blackface) might cause some to confuse those racist actions with our rich history and traditions – which include wearing black makeup during the Zulu parade. Those who incorrectly compare our use of black makeup to ‘blackface’ minstrelsy can first look to our name to dispel that notion. Unlike minstelsy, which was designed to ridicule and mock black people, the founders of our Social Aid & Pleasure Club chose the name ‘Zulu’ to honor their African ancestry and the continent’s most fierce warriors.”

With blackface in the news recently in Baton Rouge and Virginia, many have brought up the makeup worn by the participants in the Zulu parade. However, members of the social club find the comparison offensive.

“…the history of Zulu makes it abusndantly clear that nothing about the organization, including the black makeup, was ever intended to insult or degrate African-Americans. To the contrary, Zulu has always been about celebrating African and African-American culture, strength, and pride.”

“‘Masking’ is a central part of Mardi Gras. The financial and legal constraints on blacks in the Post-Reconstruction South made makeup (and not masks) the only option available to Zulu members at that time.”

Professor C.W. Cannon of Loyola University New Orleans added his commentary to the statement as well, saying:

“It’s a remarkable testament to the resilience of carnival spirit that, in the midst of the white supremacist era… the Zulu king first stepped off a banana boat in the New Basin canal wearing a lard can crown. The date: 1909. That’s why it’s so upsetting – also a bit absurd – when people who have no understanding or appreciation for carnival aesthetics and social analysis chime in from hundreds of miles away with self-righteous finger-wagging. What they’re about is shaming traditions that are far more revolutionary than they are able to comprehend.”

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