From Minstrelsy To Snapchat, Blackface Is A Disgusting Part Of American History That's Still Prevalent At Home and Abroad

A group of soldiers in a prisoner-of-war camp perform a play in 'blackface' in a deleted scene from the film 'Hart's War', 2002.  (Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)

From Minstrelsy To Snapchat, Blackface Is A Disgusting Part Of American History That's Still Prevalent At Home and Abroad

Here's how the racist makeup made its way from the stage to social media and got exported around the world.

Published February 16, 2018

Whether it be part of a Halloween costume or used for an offensive post on Snapchat, blackface remains a painful thread of our societal fabric. 

The history of blackface must be understood in order for us to examine why the contemporary uses of the makeup is still extremely offensive and racist. Blackface began with stereotypes of slaves working the plantation and evolved into a profitable form of entertainment for Black and white performers. 

Although blackface is no longer used in America in film or television, it still rears its ugly head on social media apps and international stages. 

Let's take look back on the origins of blackface and the disgusting ways its still used today. 

  1. Black stereotypes from the plantation (early 1800s)
    Jim Crow
    Jim Crow
    (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)
    (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)

    Caricatures such as Jim Crow and Mammy were created by plantation owners as a way to mock slaves and free Blacks during the 19th century. The character Jim Crow was born in 1830 when white minstrel show performer Thomas "Daddy" Rice blackened his face and danced a jig. 

    The character of Mammy deviated from the "coon" stereotype was the strong maternal figure of the home who would cook, clean, and help raise the children. Although the image of Mammy is still used by advertisers and restaurants in the south as a positive figure, the name itself is offensive and can viewed as a racial slur. 

  2. Minstrelsy (1830s-1910s)
    (Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

    Minstrel shows involved white actors darkening their face, painting exaggerated red lips with makeup, and acting out stereotypically dumb, foolish, or dangerous Black characters. The height of minstrelsy took place between 1830 and 1890.

    Black artists were not taken seriously as entertainers and not allowed to perform unless they wore blackface.

  3. Blackface on Broadway, Television, and Radio (1900s)
    Bert Williams
    Bert Williams
    (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
    Al Jolson
    Al Jolson
    (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
    Amos N' Andy
    Amos N' Andy
    (Photo by Getty Images)

    Eventually blackface made its way from the small stage to the big screen with performers such as Bert Williams, Al Jolson, and Freeman Gosden and Charles Correllwho created "Amos N' Andy."

    At this time, Black and white performers were seen in Broadway musicals, tap dance performances, and comedic radio/television shows. 

  4. Present Day Halloween Blackface

    Blackface may have disappeared from show business, but its still been used by many white people during Halloween. These costumes have often resulted in loss of employment and national criticism. 

  5. Snapchat Blackface On College Campuses

    A common trend among college campuses is students taking photos of themselves wearing blackface and posting it with an offensive comment on the app Snapchat. The rise among blackface wearers on Snapchat has been met with people taking screenshots of the images and sending them to the college's administration. 

    Many students who posted blackface photos were released from their schools. 

  6. International Blackface (2018)

    Most recently, an Asian woman appeared on Chinese television station CCTV wearing blackface as part of a sketch highlighting the relationship between China and Africa. The sketch was called out by Chinese and non-Chinese people for being extremely offensive and highlighting the racism prevalent in other countries. 

Written by Rachel Herron

(Photo by Murray Close/Getty Images)


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