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Mardi Gras 2015 - The Krewe of Zulu Parade

Source: WENN.com / WENN

An African-American group based in New Orleans raised eyebrows during Mardi Gras festivities on Tuesday over its use of blackface-style costumes that they’re defending.

SEE ALSO: WTF? Racist Blackface Figurines Given Out At Mardi Gras Parade

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club released a statement in February about its use of blackface in the hope of avoiding the blackface controversy that has swept the nation, the Associated Press reported. A firestorm erupted last month that began with the revelation that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northman has worn blackface.

“Those who incorrectly compare our use of black makeup to ‘blackface’ minstrelsy can first look to our name to dispel that notion. Zulu parade costumes bear no resemblance to the costumes worn by ‘blackface’ minstrel performers at the turn of the century. Zulu parade costumes more closely resemble and are designed to honor garments worn by South African Zulu warriors,” the statement said, according to the Advocate.

The origin of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club goes back to the early 20th century, according to the group’s website. They changed the club’s name from the Tramps and its motif after members attended a musical comedy at the Pythian Theater in 1909 that included a skit about the Zulu tribe.

The group’s mission was to serve the Black community as part of the benevolent society that provided financial help to those in need.

During their earliest parades, the King Zulu character wore a lard can for a crown and black makeup. Some members chose to wear blackface because purchasing masks were too expensive. Over time, they came to view blackface in their context as a cultural expression that paid homage to African tribes.

By the 1960s, the Zulus came under criticism during the Black power movement. Black activists protested the Zulus, causing the organization’s membership to dwindle to about 16 men.

However, the Zulus revived, but they now face renewed condemnation during the Black Lives Matter era, and against the backdrop of white liberals like Northam and Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface.

Part of the problem for the Zulus is that white members of the groups who ride on the organization’s float also wear blackface. The organization is no longer all Black.

“They know good and damn well that this blackface has its roots in minstrelsy and they are the modern-day minstrels. They are strictly for the white guests who come to town to take part in Mardi Gras,” Malcolm Suber, an activist involved in demanding the removal of Confederate monuments, told the Advocate.

Here’s a look at the controversial blackface costumes.

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