Singer, comic and host of America’s Got Talent, Nick Cannon, defended his “whiteface” persona as simply an impression while “blackface” espouses oppressive racist stereotypes.
Cannon told ABC’s Good Morning America, “I know ‘blackface’ was a term that was created in 1869 to describe offensive minstrel shows. ‘Whiteface,’ if you look it up and Google it, it’s a ski slope in upstate New York. I was doing a character impression. Blackface is about oppression.”
On Monday, promoting his first album in 10 years, White People Party Music, Cannon donned red hair and white skin, unveiled his new identity on Instagram calling himself “Connor Smallnut.” The impression created quite a bit of controversy:
“It’s official… I’m White!!! #WHITEPEOPLEPARTYMUSIC #Wppm in stores April 1st!!!!!!Dude Go Get It!!!Join The Party!!!! #GoodCredit #DogKissing #BeerPong #FarmersMarkets #FistPumping #CreamCheeseEating #RacialDraft ‘Bro I got drafted!!'” Cannon wrote in the caption of the first picture he posted showing his new identity.
The reaction to his Instagram was not all positive. “If a white person did this by switching to African American as a joke. Hell would be raised,” was one comment. Another person responded, “you are where you are today because of both races. So why risk pissing either one of them off? We’re all the same, damn it. People are just people. You only did this just to cause a frenzy and to get more publicity for your album. You obviously don’t care too much for your fans because you knew both races would just attack each other on your damn page. So unnecessary.”
Cannon told George Stephanopoulos that he created the character because of people’s sensitivity about race. Expressing disbelief, the Good Morning America host asked, “That’s the reason you did it?” Cannon replied, “Yes of course.” Yet, Cannon insisted, “The mission was to have fun, and yes, put it out there that we have issues with race in this country and in this world, but it doesn’t have to be with hatred.”