I Was Invited to Wear “Blackface” for Mardi Gras

Shannon Burton, SXI (they/she)
7 min readMar 3, 2019

About a year ago, my boyfriend Chuck was commissioned to paint coconuts for Krewe of Zulu, the over-a-century-old New Orleans parade which is first to roll on Mardi Gras day. Hand decorated, Zulu coconuts are one of the most sought-after Mardi Gras “throws”; more coveted than beads by a long shot.

Zulu Coconuts: Photo Courtesy of Chuck

When Chuck met with his Zulu contact to hand over the coconuts, he was offered a rare invitation to ride along as a guest in this year’s Zulu Parade.

“Bring your girlfriend,” he was told.

Two things you should know:

1. Complexities of ethnic identity aside, I am a white woman who moved to New Orleans in 2015.

2. Wearing blackface-like makeup is mandatory for all Zulu riders, regardless of race and membership/guest status.

As someone who spends a lot of time reading and talking about racism and race relations, and someone new-ish to New Orleans Carnival, I had a mixed reaction to the invitation. I knew that Zulu was beloved, and that this invitation was an honor, but I was (I think understandably) hesitant.

I decided to dig a little deeper before making a decision.

Why do the citizens of a majority black city line the streets every year to watch Zulu and clamor for coconuts? How is it that…



Shannon Burton, SXI (they/she)

Sexual Empowerment Coach for Women+🌈 Explore, embrace, and expand your sexuality with virtual, talk-based coaching. Find resources at sexcoachshannon.com