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.