Benefit Cosmetics has hired Mexican American comedic actress Anjelah Johnson as part of the brand’s “Wing Women” campaign. The 90’s themed music video touted as being funny is far from it—it’s offensive. In the video Johnson is dressed as her made up character, Bon Qui Qui, in tight fitting gaudy mismatched clothes, painted in exaggerated layers of wildly colorful makeup and a big knotty hairstyle. A character Johnson refers to as “a Latina girl with all these black characteristics — her attitude, her weave.” This is called brownface, the trope of the Latina clown is anti-black, classist and promotes negative stereotypes.
Brownface is a version of blackface, a well-established expression of prejudice and hate involving ethnic impersonations. These images are used to perpetuate prejudice attitudes and perceptions. The brownface Latina clown caricature is demeaning, degrading and negating of the Latina’s sexual allure. The underlying message of the video is a white supremacist subtext which belittles and harshly criticizes as inferior.
When any Latino or Latina actor, director or person in a position of impact is paid to perpetuate negative stereotypes, we are under no obligation to support them.
When an actor chooses to take on a role which is stereotypical, humiliating and degrading in exchange for money and fame, we are under no obligation to bolster them. It is an expression of self-hatred. Not only are they being harmful to themselves but the entire media-consuming population feels the effects.
Dangers of Derogatory Humor
Creating a character based on women of color turns them into an object stripped of their intelligence, emotion and humanity. We live in a sexist patriarchal society where women do not have autonomy. If a woman is at work, in school or walking down the street to her home, and is perceived as the Bon Qui Qui character she is placed in danger of verbal, physical or emotional violence.
There are countless studies detailing the negative consequences of being bombarded with negative images. One study in particular, the Cardiff University in Wales, found that if people repeatedly tell jokes that portray a race as stupid, they eventually believe that to be true.
Humor has long been used to remind the subordinate group that they are inferior and are not worthy of being taken seriously. This negatively affects the subordinate group in real life by hurting self-esteem and creating a negative body image. Two of the main reasons people are bullied are their appearance and social status. Victims of bullying often suffer emotionally, physically and consider suicide.
Social rejection and perceived racial discrimination play as factors for suicide attempts among Latinas. The number of Latina teens attempting suicide is staggeringly high and alarmingly increasing. A major step for decreasing these numbers is developing high self-esteem.
Latina beauty is not celebrated.
Basically invisible Latinas are absent from mainstream history, museums, monuments and textbooks. The only images perpetuated in mainstream media are negative stereotypes. Latinas are ceaselessly portrayed by the media as exotic, mindless and subservient. This is the opposite of what we need.
Self-esteem begins with having a healthy body image.
Provide youth with a variety of female role models, not just Disney princesses. Teach girls there is no one standard of beauty. Redefine beautiful so there is room for them to envision themselves.
One study concludes that a strong sense of ethnic identity helps girls feel positive about their appearance and serves as a buffer against the onslaught of unrealistic negative media.
Why would anyone patronize any product from a corporation with such little regard for them? Who in the world is Benefit Cosmetics trying to appeal to?
Yet, by doing nothing, you are condoning it. Your actions have impact. What YOU can do:
We need businesses who uplift, enable and empower Latinas to become successful in their everyday lives. We need products that will build our self-esteem and give Latinas the courage to take actions which create positive impact in their lives and therefore the world.
- Do not consume or expose yourself or youth to negative content.
- Boycott products from companies who do not have your best interests in mind.
- Do not purchase products that are physically or emotionally harmful.
- Stop supporting products and companies that are toxic to society by perpetuating negative stereotypes referring to any particular color as bad.
- Demand advertisers increase positive portrayals of Latinos in media.
- Demand private media industries produce and distribute programming to counter messages of hatred and prejudice, as well as to educate their audiences about the destructive impact of intolerance.
- Demand responsibility of the advertisers who in essence are supporting and perpetuating this lack of diversity.
- Support media providing alternate portrayals of women and minorities.
- Support alternative media outlets like this one.
- Our power is in uniting and supporting Latin@s creating content.
- Latinas have the ability to tell our authentic stories. Become a content creator and distributor.
Bella Vida Letty is a regular contributor to LatinoRebels.com and one of the Original Rebeldes, having been with the group since the very beginning. In 2012 she was named one of the Most Powerful Latinas in Social Media by VOXXI. You can follow her on Twitter (@bellavidaletty) or read more about her on her blog, Bella Vida by Letty.