Free Essay Sample - Minstrel Shows

Published: 2023-05-17
Free Essay Sample - Minstrel Shows
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Racism Entertainment Slavery Theatre
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 988 words
9 min read

The minstrel show, which is also referred to as minstrelsy, is an American form of theatre and entertainment that was well-known from the old days of the 20th century. Minstrelsy originated from preindustrial European customs of carnival and masking and was regarded to present an awful and fascinating phenomenon. These shows were established on the comic portrayal of stereotypical racism, and white male minstrels staged them. Each show entailed several different acts, dancing, music performances, and fun outfit that imitated people with mockery specifically of African descent. The imitation combined savage satire of black Americans with a real fondness for black traditions.

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Also, the white entertainers would apply burnt cork or even grease paint to darken their faces and then perform acts that teased the black people. Some of the popular songs that began as minstrel songs include "My Old Kentucky Home," "Dixie," "Camptown Races," and "Oh Sussanah," which featured various stock personas, popularly the slave. Minstrels always affirmed that their dances and songs were genuinely black, while the degree of the black influence continues to be debated. The tradition of minstrel shows became famous and respectable between 1850 and 1870, and such shows ridiculed black people as incompetent, dim-witted, clownish, and superstitious (Bloomquist, 2015).

Even though the shows gradually vanished from many theaters and became entirely favorite to amateurs, its effect persisted in television series, radio stations, and vaudeville, in addition to the film show, together with global-music platforms of the 20th century. Generally, the minstrels lost admiration as the civil rights activities continued and gained ground, and the positive and negative impacts of these shows have been doubted over many years. Thomas Dartmouth Rice was the founder of the blackface performance, which was famously known as "Jim Crow." The performance of this show created enthusiasm and greatly mimicked African Americans.

Writing of this topic on African American theatre (minstrel shows) significantly changed throughout the years, and the significant points of debate are the reactions to the minstrelsy, the contribution minstrel shows had to racism, and its continuous influences in today's traditions, and also the origins of minstrelsy. There were various responses to the subject during the times of minstrel shows in the nineteenth century. Some greatly accepted it, while others were firmly against it. The subject matter of the roots of minstrel shows also finds varying opinions. Some had views that a minstrelsy is only an American form of entertainment, whereas others feel that European minstrelsy had a high impact on American shows. However, after the collapse of minstrel shows, and before the civil rights activist, there was a feeling of nostalgic devotion in writing on African American theatre, seeing them as considerable development in entertainment.

In 1854, during the growth of minstrel shows, journalist Augusta Bowne emphatically stated claimed her view on the subject in her writing for Home Journal, "Negro Minstrelsy." According to Browne, minstrelsy was an awful disgrace on the American music tradition. Browne believed that minstrel shows were meant to be stories being narrated poetically by the use of dances and songs. What had been the stories of old times told with a sense of positivity had been compromised to mean offensive tales filled with evil and profanity. Hence, the picture of African Americans, had no place in such a rich history of beautiful music and anecdotes, since they only have a negative impact on the culture and the community.

Brown still argues that the prevalence of this music and the minstrel shows is damaging religion and morals, and is also testing the advancement of the music industry. Some of the well-known minstrel songs have lyrics that are supposed to reflect faith and God; a good example is the creation story. Browne also feels that minstrel shows have no role in American customs, and are negatively influencing the intellect of the community.

Hans Nathan, in his book "Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy," which was published in 1962, maintains that the European impact on the initiation of American minstrelsy was significant. He also claims that the various types of minstrel shows can help track the seriousness of racism in the United States. Nathan still proclaims that America is made on a racial mindset; they are firmly ingrained in their traditions. That is the reason American minstrel shows display African Americans very negatively. According to Nathan, African American minstrel shows were portrayed as pitiful and sympathetic persons in England. The minstrel shows in Britain attracted the blacks since they were put in a positive viewpoint, and this positive picture was successful in enhancing racial acceptance.

John Blair, a historian, indicates a change in the writing about minstrel shows. He researches the actual origins of the minstrelsy behind the real racism related to the shows. Blair reviews this in his article "Black Minstrels in Cross-Cultural Perspective," which was published in 1990. Blair concurs with Nathan that African American theatre was a great contributor to racism throughout America (Saxton, 2018). Furthermore, some of recent historians debate that this blackface minstrel shows the portrayal of African Americans still exists today, yet that may not be as bad as it used to be.

In conclusion, the reality is that it is not possible to categorize minstrelsy as entirely good or bad. Minstrel shows lie somewhere in the middle, with both positive and negative impacts on African Americans and society at large.


Barnes, R. L. (2016). Darkology: The Hidden History of Amateur Blackface Minstrelsy and the Making of Modern America, 1860-1970 (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from

Bloomquist, J. (2015). The minstrel legacy: African American English and the historical construction of "Black" identities in entertainment. Journal of African American Studies, 19(4), 410-425.Retrieved from

Saxton, A. (2018). Blackface minstrelsy, vernacular comics, and the politics of slavery in the north. In The Meaning of slavery in the North (pp. 157-175). Routledge. Retrieved from

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