Prompted by a journalist’s phone call last night I’ve added a new category on Travalanche.
There are many reasons why I haven’t yet created a special section on Travalanche for blackface and minstrelsy, despite having written hundreds of articles that touch on the topic. Primarily I don’t want want people to think I’m celebrating it. Believe me there are those in the vintage show biz community who do so, so it’s important to be clear. I’ve added labeling to a lot of these posts now to avoid confusion.
Also, nearly everyone in show biz in the 19th and early 20th century (white or black) wore blackface at one point or another, so it’s hard to decide the cut-off…honestly there would be over 2,000 posts tagged “blackface” here without exaggeration. Another way in which it is hard to know the cutoff is that blackface is but a subset of racist stereotype and caricature; they’re related but not identical, and again, there would be thousands of posts with the tag, as it permeates our society to that degree. A third complicating factor is that African American performers themselves wore it, and many of them argued that it wasn’t racist. Now THAT’s complicated, and not for me (a white man) to judge or unpack one way or another
But there is a need for a special section here now, not just because of the recent scandals in the Virginia governor’s office, but because the “African American Interest” section here (where I’ve heretofore tagged the blackface-related articles) now contains so many celebrations of African American entertainers who never had anything to do with stereotype or blackface. So to help guide readers I’ve added a second level of organization. I’ve been conservative so far in what I’ve included, just the most relevant stuff, 63 articles. I’ll undoubtedly add other of my older posts to the category as I think of them, and add new ones. Meantime, for more on the topic, you can search Travalanche with keywords like “blackface”, “minstrelsy”, “racist”, “stereotype” or so forth, and also browse through the “African American Interest” section, though again that’s a wider net. I hope readers will find the section useful. And I just remembered that it’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, the perfect time to launch it. Find it here. And for more on this topic, see this earlier post, “On T.D. Rice and Blackface MInstrelsy. ”