Nate Hill, 'The White Ambassador,' Tackles Racism On Harlem Streets (VIDEO)
There is a black man parading around Harlem in whiteface. Yes, whiteface.
Nate Hill, the man behind the paint, is a street performance artist known for his wacky costumes and creative methods of tackling social issues.
The Sarasota, Fla., native turned New Yorker has dedicated much of his career to transforming himself in the name of art. Hill has offered free bouncy rides on his knee while wearing a Penguin suit, has dressed up in a Panda costume and charged people one cent to punch him, and finally, has made house calls to pick up items that trigger painful memories while wearing a Darth Vader meets Yogi Bear getup called "Death Bear." Needless to say, Hill is in an artistic genre all his own.
His most recent project is entitled "The White Ambassador."
After starting a Twitter account in September with the handle @WhiteSmellBot, Hill retweets any comments he finds that refer to the smell of white people. Over the past three months, the account has compiled more than 7,000 tweets, most of which talk about white people smelling like a wet dog (among other foul things) after they get caught in the rain.
To address all the racist comments received, Hill decided to hit the streets of Harlem, N.Y., where he has lived for the past four years, in whiteface, a business suit and a sign stating "White People DO NOT Smell Like Wet Dog" -- all while chanting "We are white! We smell alright!"
Hill argues that he is trying to draw attention to racism in general by illustrating hateful comments targeted specifically at white people.
"My mission is pretty clear -- racial tolerance," Hill told HuffPost Black Voices. "The white stereotypes are often overlooked, and I wanted to examine that. There seems to be a double standard of how racist you're allowed to be depending on your race."
Hill has even gone so far as to offer interested parties a whiff of damp hair from a white person to prove there is no canine odor. While no one takes him up on the offer, during a recent show he did spark the interest of a group of black men expressing their anger over his performance.
"You're on the wrong team man," said one of the men, referring to Hill defending his white, rather than his black, heritage.
Early in their exchange, Hill let it slip that he is biracial. "It was a mistake on my part to make it personal," Hill said. "I feel like it distracts from the fact that we are all human beings."
However, Hill's omission sheds light on why this issue might mean so much to him, and why it would move him to perform three times a week from now until February 2012. " I don't want people to think it's a stunt. I think you have to show your commitment to an idea, so I choose to perform a lot," Hill said.
Although Hill was raised by both his white mother and black father, he said that it's hard to identify with certain feelings of racism. "I don't feel the resentment that black people have towards white people. Maybe because my mother is white," Hill said. "It bugs me a lot -- I don't want to come across like I'm holier or better then anyone else."
As he continues to perform "The White Ambassador," Hill said he hopes that the dialogue on racism continues and that he grows from the experience. "I'm trying to learn here, too -- that's why I stopped to talk to the men," Hill said. "It's the best thing that could have happened. I want to learn where people are coming from."
Here's a look at a few of the most memorable whiteface performances in cinematic history.