Tales of the Cocktail co-founder steps down over blackface furor


When is blackface appropriate — if ever?

That's the question raised by a widely circulated image of a New Orleans entrepreneur — a white woman — being painted up to ride in the Krewe of Zulu parade, whose members (mostly African Americans) traditionally parade in blackface.

Ann and Paul Tuennerman — known in their professional roles as "Mr. and Mrs. Cocktail" for their founding of the New Orleans-based Tales of the Cocktail festival — were swept into a social media storm this week after Paul Tuennerman posted a photo of Ann in blackface as she prepared to ride in Tuesday's Zulu parade.

Since then, Paul Tuennerman has stepped down from the festival, and Ann Tuennerman has issued a formal apology and agreed to appear in a Facebook Live chat on Monday afternoon with Ashtin Berry, a bartender at the Ace Hotel New Orleans who had objected both to the image and to Ann Tuennerman's comment on the photo:
Paul G Tuennerman, interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said "Throw a little Black Face on and you lose all your media skills." He did his best as the interviewer.
In announcing his resignation, Paul Tuennerman wrote, "My comment to Ann about blackface prior to the Zulu parade was meant to be a husband's innocent teasing of his camera-shy wife, not a belittlement of others. In retrospect, the words were insensitive, hurtful and just plain dumb and I feel horrible for the pain they have caused. I take full responsibility and it is with a very heavy heart that, effective immediately, I am resigning from Tales of the Cocktail."

"It was an honor to ride with the Zulu organization, but in my ignorance, I did not consider how videos and photos of my participation in this parade would cause pain and incite anger for so many," Ann Tuennerman wrote in an open letter. "I understand that my role comes with a responsibility to take these considerations into account and to be mindful and respectful of everyone in our global community. I failed at this, and have no excuse to offer." She did not return a phone message from Gambit left Saturday evening.

Blackface, of course, is the traditional garb for Zulu riders, who were making fun of the all-white Uptown krewes who wore blackface in a derogatory manner. As white members joined, they wore blackface alongside black riders on the floats. Over the years, the practice sometimes hasbeen controversial; according to the Krewe of Zulu's own history,: "In the 1960’s during the height of Black awareness, it was unpopular to be a Zulu. Dressing in a grass skirt and donning a black face were seen as being demeaning. Large numbers of black organizations protested against the Zulu organization, and its membership dwindled to approximately 16 men."

In 2014, Shantrelle P. Lewis, a writer for the website Afropunk, explained the tradition and why many were uncomfortable with it:
The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, a mutual aid and benefit organization founded in New Orleans in 1910 in lieu of the racism of the early 20th century, was a response by NOLA's African American community to the blatant and violent white supremacy in Louisiana, particularly as celebrated during Carnival traditions. The decision to dress in "blackface" was a tongue-in-cheek response to the stereotypical images of Black people and minstrelsy of the day... but also, a tribute to the African culture.
Ann Tuennerman's live chat with Ashtin Berry will begin on the Tales of the Cocktail Facebook page Monday at 2 p.m. In the meantime, the Tales page is filled with discussion.

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