Offensive African-themed 21st birthday party photos surface

Shereen Dindar
Contributing Writer
Shine On

Controversial photos of a white Australian woman's African-themed birthday party have surfaced on the web -- and they scream ignorance.

Many of the guests for her 21st birthday party came dressed in stereotypical outfits, the vast majority of which actually have no logical relationship to Africa.

Because what better way to represent African culture than by donning a Klu Klux Klan getup? Or by painting your face with blackface makeup, which has roots in 19th century minstrel shows?

Also see: H&M pulls fashion headdress from Canadian shelves after getting complaints

The photos were originally posted on the woman's Facebook account, but she removed them after they garnered public attention. She later apologized for offending people.

Unfortunately for her, before she removed the controversial photos, they were posted on Tumblr by a stranger who found them offensive.

Tumblr user Black in Asia identifies himself as a black American man. He posted the photos with an introduction, part of which reads:

Attendees were all asked to wear “African themed” clothing to depict the continent and this is what resulted… blackface, elephant and gorilla costumes, warpaint, native American headdresses (?!) and more…. I’m at a loss for words. And yes, this is from 2013.

Also see: Vogue under fire for another blackface editorial

After a number of people expressed outrage on his Tumblr, the birthday party host responded to his post with an explanation. In it, she says she plans to visit Africa one day to teach English, and that she had no intention of being racist or offending anyone.

Read her full response below:

Okay don’t even know how to use tumblr but wanted to clarify this.

It was my ‘African themed’ party and it was honestly made that theme because I have always wanted to go to Africa (to teach english) but haven’t made it there yet. In no way was this party intended to hurt anyones feelings or upset anyone at all. In fact as you can tell from the photos I dressed up as cleopatra, whilst MAJORITY of my guests came as animals, that can be found in africa or wore traditional african clothes or even dressed up as famous people who come from africa. If anything this was to celebrate the amazing country and people. However, some guest did decide to paint themselves, although this was in no way my intention or encouraged in the slightest. I understand that this has offended some people and I have no idea how these photos have even been seen, they were simply put on facebook for my guests to see the photos of themselves. I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be ‘Australian themed’ or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don’t believe anyone would be offended. People wear oktoberfest cotumes to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German? So what I am saying is I do understand the people who have painted themselves have offended people, although none of them intended that…. but how can people be annoyed that the majority of the people at the party were celebrating another countries culture.

Also one of my friends who is Mauritian painted himself white, but that photos didn’t make it to this page along with the MAJORITY of people who were amazingly detailed costumes that no one could take offense to!! I am sure that not one person at my party felt upset that said guest painted himself white as it was not meant in that way at all.

Also, I have NEVER been asked to take these photos down, however if I had of course I would have done so, as I had no idea that anyone other than friends and guests could see these photos, and to be honest I am not a racist person at all so I didn’t think anyone could possibly take it that way. I intend to spend 2 months teaching english in cambodia in January, and cant wait to do the same in Africa. If you will still have me.

To reiterate, I was cleopatra and did not encourage my guest to wear anything racist simply to come as something African Inspired, much like if you went to an australia day party (Which I am 100% sure people of all races and cultures do every year!!!)

Again I am sorry for those I have offended and the photos have now been removed now that I have eventually been made aware people were upset. For those who know me at all you would know the last thing in the world I would want to do would be to offend people.

What are your thoughts on these African-themed birthday photos? What about culturally-themed parties in general? Can they be fun and tasteful, or should people just avoid them?