The Recoil

I’ve always been an ambitious person and I’m still ambitious even though I’m 67 and retired from teaching at Morehead State.

But I also punish myself for any progress toward those ambitions and really for any good idea that I have. That’s much of what makes writing so hard.

That’s the case even after writing something as short as the last post. I want to cry, have a pain rolling from the back of my head into my eyes, and want to throw up.

This has been the case with my writing since I was 23 back in 1977.

But writing about blackface makes the usual situation of my writing worse because of the disgust and shame I feel as an ambitious white person writing about the topic. The shame was visceral when I was doing research in 2010 at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Blackface materials were not only disgustingly racist, they had a polluting quality that made me want to take a shower after every day at the archives.

Anyway, I have to stop here.

Comic Substance

Two important points for my argument on minstrelsy:

  1. Blackface performers adapted a concept of black people as “comic substance” whose humiliation, torture, and dismemberment could be enjoyed.
  2. The shared enjoyment of black humiliation and suffering became an anchor point for white identity.

There’s an example of the concept of black people as “comic substance” in “Lucy Long” which was written before the formation of the Virginia minstrels but was the most popular minstrel song of the 1840’s

Yes Lucy is a pretty girl/Such lubly hands and feet/When her toes is in de market house/Her heels is in Main Street,/Take your time, etc.

There was a stereotype that black women had large heels and feet–in this case that her feet extended 30 feet or more. The stereotypes themselves are what Patricia Hill Collins called a “controlling image” but minstrelsy multiplied the stereotypes concerning black hair, size, lips, and noses to the extent that they conveyed a general idea of black people as comic monstrosities, or “comic substance.”

A Contemporary Note:

When conservatives complain about being condemned for racist language, they express a longing to treat black people as comic substance and rage over current taboos on the n-word, racist jokes, etc. The ability to use and enjoy racist language has long been a significant part of being white and they feel the loss.

The State of Things

This is a journal blog on writing the two chapters on early blackface minstrelsy that I’m writing for a book manuscript entitled Displays of Degradation: Cultural Transformations in Philadelphia, 1785-1850.

When I started hunting down sources for these two chapters, I had overwhelming feelings of disgust for the topic of blackface minstrelsy, so overwhelming that I can’t really discuss in other places. So, these seemed like the place to express myself.

I may also use this blog for my short-form political commentary and have yet to determine how the two things will balance.

Why Two Chapters on Blackface

Most writing on early blackface treats popular blackface minstrelsy as changing little between the emergence of T.D. Rice’s “Jim Crow” act in 1829 and the early 1850’s.

To the contrary, I view blackface as changing rapidly and divide the early development of blackface minstrelsy into three periods–

1. 1830-1835, the early years of T. D. Rice and “Jim Crow”;

2. 1835-1842, Marginal Performers and Comic Substance;

3. 1843-1850, Blackface Bands

The two chapters will cover the periods from 1830-1842 and 1843-1850.

Thinking About

Here’s the chapter titles for my Displays of Degradation manuscript:

Ch 1: Intro

Ch 2: Blustering Brags

Ch 3: To the Convivial Grave

Ch 4: Taking the Man Out of the Workingman

Ch 5: The Man with the Poker

Ch 6: Occupied by Blackness

Ch 7: Displays of Degradation

Ch 8: Honored Felons

Ch 9: Anchoring Whiteness

Ch 10: Conclusion

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.