Nick Cannon White Face Controversy : How It Hurts The Cause Of Racial Equality


Television personality and comedian Nick Cannon debuted his white faced alter-ego “Connor Smallnut” this week on Instagram. The backlash on both sides was immediate, predictable and, as usual, completely overblown.

From one side, cries of “reverse racism” came raining down social media streams, and news feeds alike. From the other, reminders of the long list of white people who’ve dawned black face over the years. From Robert Downey Jr in 2008’s Tropic Thunder to the performers of the minstrel show age and of course the nameless masses of teenagers and adults who’ve thought it wise over a period to dress up as less than respectable versions of our nations first family and Trayvon Martin. And, if you can believe it, this already hyper emotional, less than intellectual conversation only degenerates from here.

Nick Cannon as "Connor Smallnut"
Nick Cannon as “Connor Smallnut”

For Nick’s part, his character did not in any way paint white people as inferior to any other racial group nor did it highlight blacks as superior in any way to any other group which-at last check-was the very definition of the word racism. In fact, I feel that Nick set back black people and hip hop when he, in one of his instagram clips, let a homeless and probably mentally ill black man freestyle rap.

Bottom line on Nick is that he is a comedian, a professional entertainer and Connor is simply a tame, mildly amusing but mostly not persona created by Nick solely to stir up controversy for an album that cannot otherwise stand on the strength of his less than shining reputation as an emcee. In fact given the release date of the album (April 1, 2014) maybe they’ll be no album. Or, maybe there will be and only fools will buy it, who knows.

How This Debate Only Hurts Us

What those affected most by matters of race need to be mindful of is that there are those who’s intent it is to bury the very idea of racism in this country for good. Those who wish to sell to the people nice sounding but nonetheless false ideas such as that of a “post racial” America. Additionally, there are others who prefer this beautiful falsehood to the ugly, raw realities of racism in America. Those who are tired of feeling bad for what-they think-was done to blacks and other minorities a long time ago. From their perspective, the struggle of the black and minority community is one not of current race based injustices but one of the refusals of a people to let go of the past. For these people, everything from the depiction of interracial couples on television to the election of our president is held up as examples of how America has righted its past wrongs and has eradicated racism from its culture in the present. And with it, any need to have any further discussion or race, race relations and its current impact on our society. To these people, racial inequality is a word to be seen not in headlines but the history books. And this, is me giving the benefit of the doubt.


It is our job to continue the work of our fore-bearers, that is, to continue the tearing down and rebuilding of an establishment that was founded upon and to this day still operates upon racists principles. Part of this task is to make sure that the plight of our people in the present day is not allowed to be unnoticed and unseen. This nation must be made to see its failings, and we must not allow others to use absurdities such a bad rappers, joke as a means by which to re-frame the discussion of racism in America nor to undermine its importance now.

In just this week, the same week that Cannon became the face of the race debate; Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck was outed by the LA Times as having reinstated LAPD officer Shaun Hillman. An officer who, while off duty at a Norco bar had a confrontation that ended with Hillman being caught on tape using racial slurs. Hillman later admitting to investigators that he pulled a gun on the black patron at whom the slurs were directed.

The chief overruled a police commissions recommendation that Hillman, who also lied to investigators about aspects of the incident, be fired. As a result, the bigoted police officer at the center of the controversy is right now still “serving” a largely Black and Latino community, still working for a department that itself has a long history of racial conflict with it’s minority residents.

Also, this week, the Oakland Police Department released its racial profiling report which shows that while Blacks makeup only 28 percent of the city’s population they made up for the majority (62 percent) of all stops made by police over the past eight months. And, when broken down by numbers no other racial group even came close to the more than nine-thousands stops made on Blacks, this in the face of 10 plus years of federal oversight brought on by previous accusations of brutality and suspect framing by the department. Curtailing racial profiling is supposed to be one of the department and federal overseer Robert Warshaw’s main goals, but if one is to read the report correctly, the department is failing miserably.

These are just two examples of more important issues of race in America than that of Nick cannon’s photos, given from this one man’s local perspective. However, Nick cannon is the trending topic on race at the moment, and that is a problem for the cause of racial equality in this country. Because when Nick Cannon becomes the face of the race question in America, even for a short time, it gives people an excuse to do what they want to do anyway which is to write off racism as a real problem. And, in this case to turn the beneficiaries of that very system into victims. Either way, we end up way off base. We need to start rethinking our approach because, at this point, we are losing the battle of the voices, and if we lose our voice, we lose everything.


PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.

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