If the best Nick Cannon can do to promote his new album is pretend to be a stereotypical white man, he should stick to his day job.
Cannon, better known as superstar Mariah Carey’s other half, and the host of “America’s Got Talent,” has caused an Internet furor by posting a photograph of himself with a white face and hands on Instagram.
His “Connor Smallnut,” personae is a geeky-looking, t-shirt wearing, plaid-flapping, skate-boarder dude in a knit cap.
Worse yet, Cannon could be accused of trotting out of the most disgusting stereotype about white men.
Because this is a family newspaper, I’m not even going to get into all that.
Despite the fallout, Cannon apparently believes most of his fans will see this as a joke.
After tweeting his 4 million plus followers saying: “It’s official…I’m White,” the 33-year-old taunted his critics with: “I think we should have a million white man march and protest @NickCannon album!!”
Obviously, this stupid publicity stunt is meant to rev up interest in Cannon’s soon-to-be released album, “White People Party Music.”
In an interview with US Weekly, Cannon said he “could have named the album Purple People Party Music and you’d still get the same album, but it was just one of those things. You know, you deal with things like race, and people get uptight, so why not?”
Here’s why not:
There are white people who will use Cannon’s unflattering caricature of a white man to make their case that if it’s okay for black people to wear whiteface, it should be okay for white people to wear blackface.
These are the same white people who argue they ought to be able to use the “n-word” because black people use it.
More important, is this really the racial progress activists had in mind when they challenged the entertainment industry to clean up the negative stereotypes of African Americans and other ethnic groups?
Obviously, Cannon isn’t the first black person to put on whiteface. Comedian Dave Chappelle played a white character on his sketch comedy TV series that ran from 2003 to 2006.
But while Chappelle’s portrayal occurred in the context of a comedy routine, Cannon’s awkward whiteface act exploits a racial stereotype for the sake of record sales.
Still, don’t get it twisted.
As despicable as the “Connor Smallnut” caricature is, it does not carry the weight of the blackface image.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, statesman, and abolitionist, once wrote: “Blackface performers are…the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their fellow white citizens.”
While whiteface is a recent caricature, blackface has been around at least since 1828 when Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice created “Jim Crow,” a racial character created to foster the contemporary belief in white superiority.
Stephen Foster, considered to be America’s first great songwriter, became famous writing blackface songs.
Foster was profiled in a PBS American Experience segment, in which Eric Lott, a historian and English professor at the University of Virginia, put the “blackface” phenomena in a contemporary context:
“I think the stereotypes that emerge from the 19th century minstrel show circulate to the present day and are crucial in defining white people’s sense of who black people are,” he said. “Whether it’s in the perceptions of black people who drive fancy cars….or whether it’s in the hardly updated version of Jim Crow and something like the welfare mother. I think there are still the lenses white people put on when they look at black Americans,” Lott said.
Cannon apparently doesn’t know much about black history.
If he did, he wouldn’t be so willing to prop open this door.