Upstart South African rap group, Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”), has a lot of nerve. Not only is the duo engaged in a war of words with Lady Gaga, but their latest video, “Fatty Boom Boom” has caused quite a stir due it’s depictions of the male-female duo in black paint.
As a black American, blackface in any iteration is extremely racially charged, but I wasn’t sure if the imagery of a coal-black painted body and bright red lips held the same weight in South Africa.
The culture of blackface and minstrelsy in South Africa dates to the 1860s, when English settlers arrived. Since that time, a minstrel festival, first known as the Coon Carnival, has been held in Cape Town every year. The Kaapse Klopse, as it is now known, primarily features the working class coloured population of South Africa these days, participating in a subversive act meant toreject white superiority and the images it has thrust upon them.
While Die Antwoord have lambasted Lady Gaga for being out of touch and appropriating performance culture just to make money, many have taking the duo to task for co-opting black and colored culture in South Africa.
After taking Ninja (the guy in the group) to task for borrowing heavily from working-class dialects and Cape Flats’ gang culture, Professor Adam Haupt of the University of Cape Town surmises, “In essence, this is how a privileged, white, English-speaking South African artist is able to ‘go native’ and become a Web 2.0 viral marketing success story in the US and Europe.”
Whether Die Antwoord is attempting to disrespect black South Africans by using such an inflammatory image or is just simply trying too hard to be edgy, one thing is clear: they completely overstepped the line.
Like it or not, for white folks, blackface should always be off-limits.