Per a New Year’s resolution to be more organized, I have been diligently preparing for the fast-approaching Spring Semester. A significant aspect of my vow to organization is preparing my classroom materials and lectures. So it was a regular occurrence for me to begin reconstructing a speech focused upon the late-19th Century rise of American industrialism and the arrival of European immigrants who would eventually become crucial elements in the American Labor Movement.
I have always considered the American Labor Movement bittersweet. As the son of an unionized Steelworker, I recognized the utility of unionization and the protections that it provided for undervalued skilled and unskilled workers; that is certainly the sweet portion of the American Labor Movement. However, that sweetness is counterbalanced with a shocking bitter reality that class realities were insufficient to subdue, let alone eradicate, the seemingly innate racism and xenophobia that was an indispensable portion of the worldviews of non-black laborers.
I have found that this glimpse into America’s past provides essential understanding of why W.E.B. Du Bois would term “the color line” as the problem of the twentieth century. Most fail to catch this crucial information because of their stupid decision to pay little attention to what non-black laborers and a developing middle-class considered entertainment to fill their limited free time.
The height of entertainment for non-black workers were vaudeville Minstrel shows. American audiences felt vaudeville shows with their singing and dancing the epitome of entertainment. Considering the racial prejudice that undergirds so much of the American psyche, it is predictable that not even white’s entertainment would be devoid of a racial element. Hence, the smashing success of Blackface Minstrels such as Thomas “Daddy” Rice is understandable. For the vast majority of whites, regardless of the region they lived, the only thing better than a vaudeville show filled with singing and dancing was one that included ample opportunities to poke fun at blacks.
Minstrel shows bolstered whites’ prevailing belief in Social Darwinism, a belief that the cream will always rise to the crop. Minstrel shows reinforced via entertainment whites superiority over blacks. Close examination of Minstrel shows reveals that these theatrical productions were akin to inspiring sermons the sought to definitively display an unconquerable black intellectual inferiority. According to those who meticulously constructed Minstrel shows, it was blacks innate inferiority that guaranteed that education was wasted on them as it would never take hold of their feeble minds and if the white world did not keep tabs on what amounted to a sub-human population it could very well devolve back to its original uncivilized state.
Fortunately for African-Americans, societal pressures have put the Minstrel Show to rest. However, the messages of black feeble-mindedness and our unsuitability for a civilized existence are projected today from one of the least likely sources; the latest reiteration of commercially successful rap stars and the droves of blacks that follow their every idiosyncrasy.
Although I could further expound upon this matter and dissect the cultural ignorance propagated by contemporary rappers, however, I fervently believe that they display it much more efficiently than I ever could. So please consider the following displays of modern day Minstrelsy as verification of all that I could and would say.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Cultuer, 2017