If you’re interested in how people became white you can consult Nell Irvin Painter’s very interesting study The History of White People. The image below was first published during our period. Racism often relies on caricature and the use of the grotesque. Note that the figure on the right is meant to be understood as Irish. Thomas Nast’s cover illustration expresses contempt for the object of its ridicule: immigrants and freedmen.
As Christian, Amy, and Declan indicated The Great White Hope is based on the life of Jack Johnson, the first Black heavyweight champion in the US. The PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness is widely available and worth screening not only for its depiction of Johnson, but its representation of the era. See, for example:
On this date in 1969 Fred Hampton was murdered by Chicago police.
Some things we failed to mention. The montage sequence from Bamboozled not only gathers blackface tropes from US pop culture. Note also the amazing score by Terence Blanchard laid over that clip. I would argue that the music functions as a melancholy yet dignified solvent, cutting through the visual sludge of minstrelsy with the sound of one of Black America’s most signal cultural achievements: Jazz.
The invocation of the minstrel figure continues to exert fascination and provoke explosive responses, from Wesley Brown’s novel Darktown Strutters (the title of a film and a song as well) to Little Brother’s 2005 album The Minstrel Show to American Apparel’s ill-advised ad “Sweeter Than Candy, Better Than Cake” (see below).
There are also abundant scholarly studies of blackface performance. Off the top of my head: WT Lhamon’s Raising Cain, Louis Chude-Sokei’s The Last Darky, Robert Toll’s Blacking Up, and Donald Bogle’s Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies and Bucks, all of which I recommend.
David Fulton, writing as Jack Thorne, also wrote a novel about the Wilmington Coup, titled Hanover (5mb pdf). He worked as a journalist for the Daily Record, Wilmington’s Black newspaper, where Alexander Manly’s “inflammatory” editorial first appeared. The issue concerned what Angela Davis has called the myth of the Black rapist (see this pdf: MythBRCh11).
“Women of that race (white),” Manly wrote, “are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than are the white men with colored women. Meetings of this kind go on for some time until the woman’s infatuation, or the man’s boldness, bring attention to them, and the man is lynched for rape. Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big burly, black brute,’ when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only not ‘black’ and ‘burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all.”
Consult Sundquist’s introduction for further information.
Below is an excerpt from Hanover which captures some of the flavor of white supremacist ideology:
I think this story is fascinating. An art college in Lyon altered a photograph of a group of its students– making it appear that some of them were people of color– in order to appeal to prospective US students. I take this to be a consequence of living in a society where everything is monetizable, including racial and ethnic identity. Under neoliberalism an uncritical, opportunistic version of diversity easily becomes just another marketing technique.
I take the image below as visual confirmation of Taylor’s claims here:
I haven’t screened this documentary yet but in his recent book Race, Class, and Marxism David Roediger writes that it is a striking account of the ways that race and for-profit policing intersect. Let’s watch it this weekend and talk about it next week.