Katy Perry accused of evoking "blackface" imagery in shoe design

By Megan Cerullo

/ MoneyWatch

Is blackface a prevalent issue on college campuses?

This time it's not her song lyrics that are causing a stir. American pop star Katy Perry is the latest high-profile designer to come under fire for selling merchandise that some say evokes racist imagery.

The "I Kissed A Girl" singer is in the crosshairs over two pairs of black sandals from her eponymous footwear collection that feature geometric eyes, a nose, and a pair of bright red lips. The sandals, called The Rua and The Ora, come in a range of colorways, including gold, red, silver and nude. Perry insists on her Katy Perry Collections website that the collection is "Designed 100% by Katy Perry."

Perry is the latest in a string of fashion designers who have been attacked for manufacturing apparel, footwear or accessories that many consumers say is reminiscent of "blackface." Prada and Gucci were each targeted recently for similar fashion faux pas.

The outrage over the shoes, released last summer, and the pillorying of their designer are measures of the charge around racial imagery and an indicator of the societal shift in what's considered acceptable — and what's racist.

"If you have to second guess whether a design is blackface/racist…it probably is," a user named @TiaHasTime tweeted.

Coming to her defense

The outrage over Perry's misstep is more divided, though, than other backlashes. Some social media users are coming to her defense — and critiquing naysayers for making sweeping generalizations.

"If you are being traumatized by shoes you need to be in a mental institution. Who cares about these shoes? They're ugly," @chadwick_el said.

"what we arent gonna do is assassinate Katy Perry's character over innocent & unintentional PABLO PICASSO's Cubism Art Movement inspired shoes. Alleging 'blackface' over these silly SHOES minimizes the true threat of malicious racist acts worldwide. Next!" wrote @evrenperry, linking to examples of Picasso's use of geometric shapes in his portraits.

what we arent gonna do is assassinate Katy Perry’s character over innocent & unintentional PABLO PICASSO’s Cubism Art Movement inspired shoes.

Alleging “blackface” over these silly SHOES minimizes the true threat of malicious racist acts worldwide. Next!https://t.co/6cPk4mJyjY pic.twitter.com/2Nq6hf7eLi

— EVREN (@evrenperry) February 12, 2019

Perry issued a statement saying she was "saddened when it was brought to my attention that it was being compared to painful images reminiscent of blackface."

"Our intention was never to inflict any pain," she said in a joint statement with Global Brands Group.

Perry said the overall aesthetic of the collection was "envisioned as a nod to modern art and surrealism." The shoes in the line are described as "inspired by Katy's travels, humor and extraordinary imagination" on her website.

In reality, though, the face on the slide most closely resembles Mrs. Potato Head's.

The shoes have been removed from Perry's website and from other sites that carry the brand.

First published on February 12, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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