A little background for clarity: I live in central Europe and talked with a friend about blackface. It is quite common in the Netherlands and Germany to darken your skin if you play the Biblical Magi. I told him that there is a de facto ban in the US to darken your skin. It is not a law, but you would get fired or not get a job if there are pictures of you wearing blackface. He did not believe me.

How likely are you to get fired / not get a job when you wore blackface in America? Can you speak of a de facto blackface ban in the USA? Or am I wrong and you can keep your job at Trader Joe's or Walmart? How is it for companies like Google or if you work for the goverment?

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    – Neo
    Nov 9, 2020 at 12:53

3 Answers 3


It is highly reactive and not proactive, but yes

Unless they make it their LinkedIn photo or are up for a professional type job, it is unlikely to be found in a background check. I don't think retail workers are having their internet history deeply searched. I doubt that any company specifically goes searching for blackface incidents.

But if someone wanted to have you fired or your photo made the news or some co-worker found it while Googling you, it is quite possible that you would be fired. I would characterize it as a de facto ban if the company is aware of it. How likely that is depends on your position.

One thing to remember is that in America, it is far easier to fire someone for any reason (at will employment) compared to most of Europe. You can fire people for virtually any reason you want with the exception of protected categories. Don't like their hair? You can fire them right now. Their walking rhythm annoys you? Goodbye. So employers do not need to prove that the employee did something wrong or violated a particular element of their contract to dismiss them. A bit of bad press or employee unrest is all you need.


The USA is not politically or culturally homogenous. There are jobs where this would be a major strike against you, and others where nobody would care.

As a generalisation: the higher-level the job, the more socially liberal the area, the more relevant it is to racial issues, and the more recent the blackface, the more likely it is to be a career-limiting move. But I don't think it's possible to give a good answer to this that will cover all possible scenarios in a nation of 300 million people and more than 50 states/territories.

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    Higher-level up to a point. Once you get into really high level positions, like say Prime Minister of Canada, it starts not having enough of an impact again.
    – Kaz
    Nov 9, 2020 at 9:08
  • Can you fire the prime minister of Canada? Like with a vote from parliament? If not, I think you can't get fired for a costume, if you can not be fired anyway :). Nov 9, 2020 at 10:40
  • @stupidstudent Yes, a prime minster can be replaced if they lose the support of the governing party/parties. In Australia, where I am, this has happened several times in recent years. But it's politically damaging to do so. Nov 9, 2020 at 10:42
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    @Kaz Fair point - yes, at very high level and especially in politics, replacing key people can become very costly. But I think it was also to Trudeau's advantage that his blackface incidents were far enough in the past for him to plead youthful folly. If he did it today, it'd be much more damaging. Nov 9, 2020 at 10:44

Take your example

"It is quite common in the Netherlands and Germany to darken your skin if you play the Biblical Magi. "

In the USA, it should be easy to find someone who can play Balthazar without needing any black facepaint. So no excuse for using blackface. In some small places in Germany it might be hard find a black person, especially one who agrees to act in a play. If as a result, there are pictures of you, white wearing black facepaint, in a fancy custome with two other people wearing equally fancy customes, in a manger with at least one ox and two sheep present, you might get away with it even in the USA. Or you might not depending on how much people around you want to be offended. I wouldn't show photos around.

But in general, if you wear blackface to take the **** out of black people, that will get you into trouble.

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