The Evolution of Blackface and Minstrel shows (Blog #2)

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https://www.etsy.com/listing/151152389/vaudeville-blackface-tin-by-steins-cork

By Cristian Ramirez

Many of us grew up with cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Looney-Tunes, Mickey Mouse, and other ‘great’ cartoons! We thought that these cartoons were so funny and so cool. Boy, we did not understand any of it and we did not see the hidden racism that was shown. Humor and violence caught our attention, and humor in characters caught our attention. I remember Bugs Bunny was my favorite show; and I loved it when he would show up in the “Acme hour” with the rest of the Looney Toon characters. Bugs Bunny’s sarcasm and his way of getting out of trouble was so cool. As kids we just watched these cartoon for the sake of entertainment and honestly because (at least me) it was much more fun than reading a book and trying to create a vivid image in our imagination. As we grew up we began to see more cartoons that were more appropriate for our age and still we could see subliminal messages of racism towards blacks and other minorities.

Of course, as kids we did not know that some of these cartoons were projecting racism it was not until we became well educated to discern and identify it on TV now.

My Freshman quarter I took a class with Professor Connie So. American Ethnic studies 150. I remember in class we learned about how the colors of different races meant to their original place versus the way the Western World changed it. For example, Red became devilish (Native Americans), Brown became dirty (Latino Americans), Yellow became disease (Asian Americans), White became pure, and Black became ugly and savage. But studying it well, it is all the opposite: Black skin is healthy and blessed, and white meant death in many uncolonized, un-hegemonized places.

I believe that blackface and minstrel shows helped evolutionize the controlled images that African Americans took upon in the media today. These controlled images evolutionized with time into TV.

Black face was created to negatively impersonate African Americans to entertain White American Folks. Black face is still used today and is a form of theatrical Make up. Minstrel Shows was an American form of entertainment developed in the the nineteenth century of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by White people in Blackface or by Black people in blackface later on. It was America’s first form of popular entertainment. With black face, whites were able to be black and express what they thought African Americans were. White Americans who used blackface and acted in minstrel shows aided the dissemination of racist characteristics that has affected the entire world. The subliminal goal for minstrel shows was to form preconceptions that rapidly led to misconceptions mocking the characteristics of African Americans into cartoonish subhumans. White America wanted blacks to revert back to “savagery”. They showed that Black were better off where they were before they were free–slavery.

Some of the well known characters that came out of minstrel shows and lack face were: Zip Coon, Jim Crow, Mammy, Pickaninny, to name a few. All these caricatures were played in an over, hyper exaggerated, and wrong way. They were made to portray as animalistic, ugly, and savage. Others showed that they were happy being a slave and serving their masters when in reality this not true for most.These characters were acted the way they were to show that giving Blacks emancipation was wrong and they needed to be controlled. Going back to the way it was better because Blacks were docile and controllable. This entertainment industry showed the complete opposite of what African Americans really were.

Zip Coon was first brought to life when George Dixon who was making fun of those African Americans who were free. Zip Coon was a Character where a black person who was free was a mistake and this is how they would be in real life–dumb. Jim Crow came from a white minstrel show where Thomas Rice blacked his face with burnt cork and dancing while singing “Jump Jim Crow,” which later contributed to Jim Crow Laws. The Mammy was portrayed as an, asexual, subordinate, big caregiver who is happy serving white households and rejects her direct family by being aggressive. Everybody liked Mammy. The character that I think is very interesting is the Pickaninny because it is a child who is characterized as an animalistic subhuman. she was portrayed with big poppy eyes, messy uncared hair, wide big red lips. I saw many cartoon online where she evolves from being just a child to being a centaur; half child half horse. the evolution of Pickaninny executes the savagery and animalistic conception whites had about Black children.

I believe Blackface and Minstrel shows are still in play in our society where African Americans are portrayed as people who are aggressive, involved in gang violence, and are not going to ever be economically mobile. Which we now know that it is the system that is inhibiting people of color to exceed in life because of the self-prophesying that the media establishes for them and Whites.

Bibliography:

  1. Padgett, Ken. “Blackface!Minstrel Shows.” Blackface! Ken Padgett. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://black-face.com/minstrel-shows.htm>.
  2. Ethnic Notions. Dir. Marlon Riggs. 1987. DVD.
  3. Takaki, Ronald T. “Controdictions.” A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Revised ed. New York: Little, Brown, 1993. Print.
  4. Pittman, LaShawnDa. “Controlled Images.” African American Studies. University of Washington, Seattle. 8 Dec. 2015. Lecture.
  5. So, Connie. “The Second Great Migration.” American Ethnic Studies. University of Washington, Seattle. 1 Dec. 2011. Lecture.

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