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Raising Cain

p. 43 "Disempowered young workers applied blackface as a defiant measure of their own distance from those arguments among enfrancised interests. Youths in blackface were almost as estranged from the bourgeois inflections of the slavery quarrel as were the blacks whom they therefore chose to figure their dilemma and emphasize their distance."

possible origin in canal labor, e.g., Erie Canal, 1825

emphasis on posture, hands above head, traced from early 1800s forward to M.C. Hammer

some description on The Jazz Singer (1927)

odd that so many of the landmark films have dealt with race: Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind, the Jazzsinger

p. 104 oriental overlay to black gestures as a convention


Raising Cain- Eric Lhamon (PL)

  • 3- contact zones between cultures ... "fire free zones," places in which difference itself, especially stylistic difference, is transvalued

  • 5- The first chroniclers of blackface performance accepted its declared premises. These first historians said blackface was about happy Negroes. Minstrelsy told of black people's genius for contentment, they said; it told of their supposedly simple southern ways. Their was organic harmony on the Plantation; the hands were in the fields; Ol' Massa and Missus were deservedly well-loved in the big house
  • 6- the racism in minstrelsy ... newly conventional embarassment at white racism ... neither about authentic black life nor about an authentic South ... Alexander Saxton, David Roediger, and Eric Lott have more recently argued that blackface performance was a fantasy of northern white performers, largely from middle class white homes, who knew nothing whatsoever about black life

  • 6- I analyze the multiple aspects in blackface performance because it was not a fixed thing, but slippery in its uses and effects ... it seems most important to notice how blackface performance can work also and simultaneously against racial stereotyping. The way blackface saps racism from within ...

  • 22- Its foolery is what licenses and permits the multivalent slashing that is going on in blackface beneath its apparently simple mask

  • 24- try with their uneven powers to own the space they cohabit ... His dancing lays claim to the place and his public attests his hold ... each participant tries to take place with the differentiated others in it

  • 28- delivering local knowledge by displaying gestural vocabularies

  • 31- ... insisted that mistrelsy was a delineation of plantation life ... straight-up faux anthropology

  • 36- "black charisma"

  • 42- The forms of blackface delineation are so complex and multidimensional, performed by so many different actors in so many different situations, that they worked generally to confound political action. Therefore, I argue that blackface developed distinct responses to "amalgamation"– not by attacking but by enacting miscegenation
  • 42- Blackface performance was a much more complex attempt to understand racial mixing and accomodate audiences to it than either abolitionist propaganda or the counter-riots of the artisanry

  • 44- the black figure ... as an organizational emblem for workers and the unemployed

  • 52- Workers with no access to presses or to boardrooms had to resort to minstrel songs and shingle boards to sing and dance theur positions
  • 73- They were choosing to see themselves in terms of blackness and to align themselves with ciphers of rootlessness and transgression

  • 75- Blackface performance became a social rite that elites wanted to harness and gradually did. What had begun as a way of registering cross-racial charisma and union then became also a way of registering racial separation and disdain

  • 78- Performance of racial masquerade neither solves nor resolves the issues it addresses. Instead, the conventions of minstrelsy keep its troubling parts from grinding up against one another. But the achievement of this nor any other lore cycle is not that this slippage grinds out the grit. Rather, performance grinds out ways to live with the perceived cultural difference

  • 79- cultural performance is a way of maintaining the corpus of gestural signals without talking about it ... semaphore gestures

  • 91- the contradictory needs of blackface performance ... He has had to mark his territory for propagation and cultural transmission within a space controlled by those that would feed on him

  • 108- Too many discussions ... about assimilation make "replacement" the issue. A former self is exchanged, goes this argument, for another self or identity. But assimilation is not a clean erasure of one identity substituting another ... Assimilation is negotiated in a moving ratio that always retains traces of the previous identity
  • 110- the blackface mask as ... agency of his compounded identity. Blackface will hold all the identities together without freezing them in a single relationship or replacing their parts

  • 126- the intended rupture of their culture’s basic assumptions … needed unusual licensing tropes. The tar they smeared on their faces … was one assertion of their license. Others were the motley extremes of dandy and fieldhand, and the abstracted argot they constructed—clear stage conventions all. Minstrels were quite aware that they were defining liminal territory for the enacting of cultural obsessions

  • 130- "undetermined threshold place"

  • 131- ... the now conventional take on blackface performance is that it helped white working Americans distinguish themselves from their threatening connections to a Black Other

  • 131- Blackface performance is the paradigmatic instance of the disdained and fugitive figure popping up on the dominating culture's center stage. It is a theatre of interpenetration, sponsored by the dominating culture, in which both the fugitive and the dominant culture agree to understand the motley figure is impossible to seat or resolve. Blackface fascination shows a miscegenated culture becoming aware of itself. It makes theatre out of mingling selves trying to understand their inversions

  • 134- I believe minstrelsy amounted to a secular ritual that proved useful to its practitioners in explaining themselves to themselves

  • 136- ... burnt cork provided protective camouflage ... With their masks, minstrels assigned to congenial publics their mutual identification with valuable attributes perceived to be black. Conversely, when performing before hostile publics, the masked minstrels could disavow their barbs by appearing to belittle their subject ... the mask ... the axle around which the multiplicity in minstrelsy turns

  • 139- [The mask] enabled viewers to see and performers to show in one figure the connections between working whites and disdained blacks. It compacted together the showing and seeing of sameness along with difference

  • 148- Cultural histories ... now generally picture the minstrel show as a ritual of acculturation in which whites ridiculed blacks, thus minimizing discrepancies among white ethnic groups by exaggerating amrks of blackness. "Blackface stepped in as a popular entertainment craze, " David Roediger correctly notices, "at the very moment that genuinely Black performers and celebrations were driven out"

  • 160- Only gradually were the mingling poor able to discover their mutuality in the elements of these heterogenous stories. Blackface performance was the abstract configuration that allowed all these scorned modes to coexist ... a budding rebarbative among poorer citizens

  • 170- the gestural vocabularies of people under scrutiny

  • 188- Minstrelsy certainly accompanied cruel domination, but it did not start out that way. Rather, it began in order to work out, and express, mixed feelings of identification and fascination through a growing grammar of charismatic gestures

  • 197- Jim Crow's shingle becomes a swtichboard on which publics and politics rapidly couple and decouple

  • 207- Why was this white identification with blackness the fetish around which a motley alliance constructed itself? To sign oneself black was unmistakably to acknowledge and choose alignment with the low ... To blacken one's face, therefore, was at leats in part an oppositional stance. Furthermore, blackface made whiteness a sign, too... Instead of covering up the seams between groups, this opening maneuver pointed at them and simultaneously crossed over the divisions to join the other side

  • 217- Jacqui Malone, following Peter H. Wood, has argued that the chief distinguishing gesture of African-American body retentions in New World dance is the bent knee ... "kneebone bent" ... an African-American posture teaching nimble motion

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