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Zulu Mardi Gras Blackface: Heritage or Hate?

The reasons for granting the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club of New Orleans an annual waiver on blackface during Mardi Gras are growing paler by the moment.
A member of the Krewe of Zulu marches during their parade Mardi Gras day in New Orleans.
A member of the Krewe of Zulu marches during their parade Mardi Gras day in New Orleans.Gerald Herbert/AP

For more than 100 years now, members of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club in New Orleans have painted their faces black and worn caricatured Zulu tribe costumes on Mardi Gras as part of the holiday’s festivities. Activists in the city are saying it’s time to bring that blackface tradition to end. Last month, members of the racial justice group TakeEmDown NOLA staged a protest in front of the Zulu Club headquarters, demanding that they renounce blackface. Members at the club that day responded by putting their blackface on early and bringing a second-line band to drown out the protests.

For TakeEmDownNOLA, their latest protest is consistent with their mission to eliminate all symbols of white supremacy in New Orleans, not just those that honor Confederate military leaders. Blackface is undeniably a legacy of white entertainers’ minstrel shows of the late-19th and early-20th centuries that mocked African Americans and painted them as uncivilized simpletons—a caricaturization that white people have used to justify the discrimination and dehumanizing of black people.