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Whiteface' Performance Artist Stirs Race Controversy in Harlem: 'You Still a Ni**er


“We are white. We smell alright”

Nate HIll dresses up in "whiteface" for a performance art project on race in Harlem.

Nate Hill dresses up in whiteface

You might have to labor through the first minute or so of the video below, but trust me, the rest is worth it.

What's the video?, you might ask. It features performance artist Nate Hill (who's biracial) dressed up in "whiteface," walking around Harlem talking about how white people don't stink.  Your next question is probably, Why? According to a website with his name on it, "Black people are racist too. They need to deal with that."

But is that really what he's trying to do? If you watch the video, maybe not.

First, Animalnewyork.com explains some of the background:

NYC’s Nate Hill takes Harlem with his new piece The White Ambassador. What’s with the white face, you ask? Earlier this year, Hill has set up a WhiteSmellBot on Twitter that is now retweeting about 80 “white people smell like” stereotypes a day. As a biracial performance artist, he’s headed out to confront these bytes of cyber racism. See the video for some tense discourse.


So he walked the streets with a clipboard, a bag of white person’s hair for sampling and an umbrella, presumably to protect his delicate ahem ahem complexion. He chanted “We are white. We smell alright” and loudly proclaimed that unlike the stereotypes curated by his Twitter bot, white people do not smell like Cheetos or hot dog water or other things more offending to the senses/your feelings, white people.

Gawker notes what happened during a recent "performance:"

In the video [below,] watch as absurd performance art turns into an earnest and heartfelt conversation with a man on the street. This is what talking about race in America looks like. I mean... it doesn't necessarily look like this, exactly. But progress takes many forms. This [s**t] is awesome.

Animalnewyork.com expounds:

This video gets particularly tense when Nate is forced to “break character” and explain his project and his biracial background to the passerby who seem, at first, unamused with the performance. The discourse transpires next is more interesting than oh so many things you hear at Chelsea gallery openings.

The tension mentioned above is especially apparent when several passersby, who are black, work hard to convince Hill that he is, in fact, a "ni**er" and he should embrace that. He doesn't, and it leads to a general conversation on racism.

But even though Hill's website seems to want to point out reverse discrimination, and the video generally does that in an absurd way, it's still worth pointing out something very curious that Hill says near the end of his dialogue.

"The reason I tried to do it this way," Hill says, talking about his methods, "is because I couldn't get white people to pay attention to racism in general.  I'm trying to get it to where I'm defending them [whites], and they'll be like, 'Oh yeah, racism.'"

Shortly after he adds, "I want them [whites] to recognize racism."

That all leads to the question: Is this whole thing really about reverse discrimination, or is it about Hill making a generalization that whites don't care about racism? And if so, is that racist?

Watch the video yourself and see what you think:

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