Many of you probably only remember V V Brown because of her breakout single “Shark In The Water.” (It’s impossible to forget from the commercial for the tenth season of Degrassi back in 2010.) After falling off the grid for some time, Brown re-emerged in 2013 completely stripped away from her former image with Samson & Delilah. Released on her label YOY (You Own You) Records, the album presented Brown’s true self as she explored all aspects of her creativity through a Biblical lens. Recently, the experimental artist shared her self-directed music video for “Sacrifice,” a track featured on her Glitch LP that came out this past year. Within the first five seconds, the camera zooms in close up on Brown, but she looks noticeably different. Her skin is lighter, her eyes are blue, and that’s when it hits you—she’s wearing whiteface. From there, a voiceover of Malcolm X addressing a black audience starts playing.
In a personal essay published on The Guardian, Brown explained how exhausting it is as a black woman to constantly be surrounded by others that are intimidated by her blackness. “I have often been in a room in which everyone can’t help but notice the colour of my skin. It strangely becomes an issue. People see my culture as intriguing—almost a commodity,” she writes in the introduction. “You can tell they wonder how they should act in the presence of a black person.”
As we all know, blackface was and still is one of the most disrespectful acts to take place in the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, we still see instances of it today courtesy of ignorant individuals that are insensitive to how offensive it is to those outside of their race. Today, skin-whitening and bleaching is still a common practice, though it is rarely discussed on mainstream platforms. By switching the color, Brown has shifted the gaze of what Frantz Fanon calls a “cultural mask,” and reversed the notion of occupying predominately white spaces. “This imbalanced exposure has existed for centuries and creates a psychological coping mechanism,” added Brown. “It represents a dual consciousness: a strange pendulum between wearing a mask and showing your true identity.”
Coming from a British artist, this is an issue that goes so much further than our North American borders. “As a black person you almost automatically learn to use this this mask in order to survive in a society predominantly catering to a white audience. It shows in different forms—from extremes of self-hate, where all things black are rejected,” Brown states. “These compromising adaptation strategies help us feel included, avoiding the fear that if one was to show blackness in its entirety there will be alienation and confusion from one’s counterparts.”
The way in which Brown has gone about challenging “white” society norms is controversial, political, and powerful. There’s no doubt that her presentation of these ideas will get people talking, but it will be for the right reasons. Racism is far from over, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. To have this roll out at the same time as Beyoncé’s “Formation” video is pretty remarkable. (In the same year, we have also watched M.I.A. stand up for refugees.) This year’s Black History Month goes down in the books, and is one that we will never ever forget.
“I had to do it because racism and these feelings exist, and I want to contribute something to my generation that I hope will make some kind of difference, even if it’s small,” Brown told MTV News. “As a black woman I was compelled to speak out without compromise.”