The Echoes of Minstrel Shows in American CultureOct 26, 2021
Prompt: Discuss the minstrel show and its echoes in American popular culture today.
- What racial stereotypes do you see in music, dance, movies, TV, and other forms of media?
- Do these stereotypes benefit other racial groups (namely whites, but not necessarily)?
- Why might a Black performer choose to participate in stereotyping of his own racial group? Can you think of examples of a performer who has done this? Feel free to comment on the brilliance of the Black artists who may have made this choice, keeping in mind that many Black performers viewed these choices as acts of resistance.
Minstrel shows are parodies of African American life. Within minstrel shows, Black people longing for the plantation are considered docile, but all other messages reinforce violent and unsavory ideas about African Americans. It is essentially anti-black propaganda. Today, we hear the echoes of the minstrel show in the representation of black people across entertainment and disciplines.
One such example is the use of AAVE and its reception in traditionally white places. In this context, a place is any location that serves a distinct purpose for people. Despite its structure and complexity, many consider the speaking cadence and syntax of AAVE to be uneducated and unprofessional. Such sentiment harkens to the reception of African American music during the height of minstrel shows. Like black music, AAVE is described as crude. Why then did black actors contribute to their own defamation?
In general, Black people participating in anti-Black propaganda are considered separate from the larger group of African Americans. Their motivations for participating vary, but most often the separation comes with new opportunities and an increased income. In the best-case scenario, the money they earned would help them live more comfortably and rise socially. Outside of “work”, they’d fight to emphasize how degrading their stage performance was and explain the negative impact of such a caricature. This would allow actors to build generational wealth while showing their castmates how off-base the assumptions of the show are.