Katy Perry pulls shoes resembling blackface: 'Our intention was never to inflict any pain'

Katy Perry (above) has apologised after shoes in her fashion line drew outrage for resembling blackface.
Katy Perry (above) has apologised after shoes in her fashion line drew outrage for resembling blackface.PHOTOS: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Singer Katy Perry has apologised after shoes in her fashion line, Katy Perry Collections, drew outrage for resembling blackface.

It is the latest brand to pull offensive designs during February, when Black History Month is observed.

The shoes, which featured large red lips, a wide triangular nose and blue eyes, were released last summer and came in nine different colourways, including black.

When photos of the black shoes began circulating on social media, they prompted an immediate backlash.

A joint statement from Perry and her partner Global Brands Group said the shoes were part of a collection "envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism."

"I was saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface," the statement said.

"Our intention was never to inflict any pain. We have immediately removed them from http://katyperrycollections.com."


The outcry followed a particularly clueless year for fashion designers: It's hard to forget H&M's advertisement featuring a black child wearing a sweatshirt that said "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle." Or Prada's "Pradamalia collection": bag charms with big red lips that resembled a Little Black Sambo figure.

More recently, both Gucci and Adidas apologised and pulled products widely viewed as racist: an US$890 (S$1,200) black Gucci knit top with a balaclava-style collar that covered half the face, the cutout for the mouth framed by large red lips; and entirely white Adidas shoes that were meant to commemorate Black History Month.

Filmmaker Spike Lee announced on Instagram last week that he would no longer wear Prada or Gucci "until they hire some black designers," adding that the companies "don't have a clue when it comes to racist, blackface hateful imagery."

Blackface references seem almost inescapable this month: Racist photos have implicated several politicians, and opinion polls have shown its prevalence in American culture.


Virginia's governor, Ralph Northam, a Democrat, came under fire for a medical school yearbook page showing a photo of someone in a Ku Klux Klan uniform and another person in blackface. He later admitted to wearing blackface while dressing up as Michael Jackson.

His attorney-general, Mark R. Herring, admitted that he wore blackface to dress as rapper Kurtis Blow in the 1980s. And Thomas K. Norment Jr, the Republican majority leader in the Virginia Senate, was revealed to be a top editor of a 1968 yearbook that included photographs of students in blackface and racist slurs.

In Florida, a much more recent image surfaced of state Representative Anthony Sabatini, 30, wearing blackface in high school.

"I'm 16 years old, one of my best friends of the time was black, and we thought at the time - looking back, it was immature - it would be funny to dress as each other," Sabatini told The Orlando Sentinel.

A recent study from Pew Research found that 39 per cent of white, non-Hispanic adults say blackface can be acceptable as part of a Halloween costume, compared with 28 per cent of Hispanic people and 19 per cent of black people. Among white people, those younger than 30 were "far less accepting" of blackface than older ones, the study said.

Last year, television host Megyn Kelly wondered on air why it was inappropriate for white people to dress up in blackface. Her show, Megyn Kelly Today, was later cancelled by NBC.