Context

During the late 1820’s, Blackface Minstrelsy was a popular form of entertainment.  White performers, always male, would paint their faces black with burnt cork to imitate African Americans by using overt stereotypes.  The performances would include certain Blackface characters, such as Ol’ Zip Coon, Jim Crow, Wench, and Octaroon.  Included in the performances were tunes played by an ensemble of banjo, bones, fiddle, and tambourine.  Every character somehow exploited the white’s perception of African American inferiority.  Ol Zip Coon, for example, was a a Northern Dandy, aspiring to be part of a high class society.  This was seen to be incredibly humorous to audiences, in that the thought of an African American wishing to be successful was completely unachievable.  Around the 1830’s, Frederick Douglass would have been about 12, 13 years old and working as a slave for Thomas Auld.  A few years later he would be sent to work for Edward Covey, the slave breaker.  To imagine how society viewed African Americans, like Douglass, in this way; weak, controllable, uneducated, low class, unskilled, worthless.  And to know how Douglass defied all societal norms, breaking away from the fate that awaited him as a slave, and becoming an influential abolitionist, writer, and activist, is amazing.  Ol Zip Coon indeed.

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Filed under Arlo, Frederick Douglass Archive

One response to “Context

  1. Pingback: Meta-Minorities: A Reasonable Look at Commonly Held Behavioral Stereotypes | Devon Corman's Human Rights Blog

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