How one magazine's attempt to highlight a lack of diversity exposed Europe's 'blackface' problem

How one magazine's attempt to highlight a lack of diversity exposed Europe's 'blackface' problem
Copyright Euronews
By Christopher PitchersAna Lázaro Bosch
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After a summer of discontent over systemic racism, @Euronews examines how 'blackface' is still a problem.

The cover of a Brussels-based magazine caused significant controversy in early September after its cover showed famous Belgians with their skin darkened to look black.


The publication, Le Vif, said that the idea was to condemn the lack of people of African descent in positions of power, questioning whether they would have these roles if they were black.

But instead, it inspired accusations of so-called "blackface".

Anne Sophie Bailly, the editor-in-chief, said that her intention was never to cause offence.

"For us, doing blackface is to make fun of or to caricature someone. That is not what we wanted to do here. There is no mockery or meanness intended. The intention is quite different. We wanted to do the opposite, to show the opposite. But clearly we did not achieve this because it has not been received like this," she told Euronews.

The term "blackface" refers to the theatrical makeup that has historically been used to portray a person of African descent, with several high profile politicians and celebrities being pressured to apologise for using it in recent years.

This includes former Belgian Foreign Minister and now Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, as well as the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

Le Vif's cover caused a stir with its publication, as anti-racism activist Stephanie Ngaluga explained to Euronews: "A lot of people, including myself, were offended by Le Vif’s cover because it is a cover that uses blackface.

"Blackface is one of the very concrete remains of colonial history and the history of slavery, which has always been intended to dehumanise people of Black and African descendant. So this is indeed something that is very shocking," she said.

The Belgian magazine's cover story was inspired by the most recent Black Lives Matter protest and adds to the growing number of voices calling out the lack of black people represented in society.

The same can be said of the EU institutions, which is not known for its diversity, but the European Commission is looking to change this, according to Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson: "The cover is not really done in the right way, but I think the issue that they are raising in the article is really important. We have a problem that too many people are equating being European with being white.

We are too white
Ylva Johansson on the European Commission

"We also have a problem in the European Commission that we are too white. So I think this is an important task to raise and to discuss and to address because we also need to do something about it. We need to represent the whole of Europe," Johansson added.


In the wake of the killing of George Floyd - a death that inspired a summer of protests - Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, promised to take action against racism.

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