By Andrew Scot Bolsinger
Though many Germans insist it’s all in good fun, anti-racist groups are voicing opposition over a party-themed tradition of blackface costumes and other themes that mock African-American heritage.
Germans have their own version of a Mardi-Gras like celebration called Karneval, according to vocative.com. They call it The Fifth Season, which begins on Armistice Day and ends with Ash Wednesday.
Armistice Day is Nov. 11 when World War I ended, though the Karneval tradition goes back hundreds of years, according German American Societies of San Diego.
“At ‘Karneval-Time’ the common people took the chance at spoofing the royals and ‘living it up!’” the group’s website states.
Ash Wednesday is the start of the Catholic Lent season, which begins 40 days before Easter.
Karneval’s biggest bash is on this night to close out the season. Like Carnival in New Orleans, party-goers dress up in outrageous outfits and party like its 1999.
But the trouble lies in what many consider to be all the rage in party attire, especially painting their faces black and mimicking black people. Though many insist it’s all for laughs, local activists aren’t buying it, claiming it represents the deep pockets of racism that still exist in post-Nazi Germany.
““It’s horrible that black people are being portrayed as clowns and funny-looking people,” Tahir Della, spokesperson for the Initiative for Black People in Germany, said. “It’s degrading.”
The Karneval celebration was birthed in mockery, when costumes were designed to mock foreign occupiers. The mockery continues, though the targets have changed. Advertisements for costumes on German websites and global ones like Amazon feature models with blackface paint and other accoutrements of black culture, from African tribal garb, to Jeri-curl wigs and more.
Some of the companies that market these costumes insist no offense is intended.
“Karneval is all about having fun,” a company spokesperson told vocative.com. “Of course we play with clichés, but this fact also applies at Karneval to all categories of people.”
The trend is so prominent that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was photographed with children dressed in blackface at a 2019 official event.
Blackface in America dates back to longer than Karneval in Germany. Minstrel shows performed for white audiences had characters in blackface getups playing to negative stereotypes of blacks in those days.
Andrew Scot Bolsinger won more than two dozen press awards during his journalism career. He is a freelance writer, author and operates www.criminalu.co, which is focused on prison reform. He can reached at [email protected]