Racism and Identity

1122 Words5 Pages
Race and Identity 512
17 February 2013
Short Paper: 2 One of the main social and political tasks of 1830’s America was to define what it was to be a free American. Challenged by reformist ideals “purifying” the land and the Industrial Revolution cementing capitalism into the framework of the nation’s economy, Black people and Indians found themselves pushed out of the national identity. Much of this struggle can be witnessed through an analysis of American theater at the time. Stereotypical portrayals of Black Americans through Black Face Minstrelsy and of American Indians in Indian Plays highlight how White Americans invented social constructs to dehumanize or ridicule “other’ races and protect an imagined White American
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There was an important difference between acting Black or Indian and being Black or Indian. To read from a script removes the actor from culpability and gives him a sense of innocence because it is his job. Even with the most accurate of incarnations on stage, one must still question which stereotypes are being portrayed and how they are being implemented. In the case of Black Face Minstrels, the unnaturally blackened skin, and the exaggerated white lips were not only obviously inaccurate but also intentionally so. Black entertainment was frequently lauded by white Americans for its “preindustrial joy” and “natural humor,” and its profitability in the show circuit was undeniable (Roediger 104). Once blackface replaced black entertainment, no longer were the “joys” genuine representations but ridiculed characterizations. From characters like Mammy, Old Jim Crow, and the Zip Coon, lower, middle, and aristocratic classes of “morally reformed” white Americans mocked the characters’ individual traits perceived as crass and unrefined. The Black Minstrel Shows allowed white men to “act black” for a time and reinforce stereotypes that separated Blacks from Whites and justify racist white supremacist ideologies while reveling in a kind of chaos of sin and folly, of misery and fun. Similarly, Indian plays fomented stereotypes of the Indian people of America. However, the plays portrayed Indian characters like Metamora much differently than the Black counterparts.
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