Love and Theft Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1995-05-11
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
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For over two centuries, America has celebrated the very black culture it attempts to control and repress, and nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the strange practice of blackface performance. Born of extreme racial and class conflicts, the blackface minstrel show sometimesusefully intensified them. Based on the appropriation of black dialect, music, and dance, minstrelsy at once applauded and lampooned black culture, ironically contributing to a "blackening of America." Drawing on recent research in cultural studies and social history, Eric Lott examines the role ofthe blackface minstrel show in the political struggles of the years leading up to the Civil War. Reading minstrel music, lyrics, jokes, burlesque skits, and illustrations in tandem with working-class racial ideologies and the sex/gender system, Love and Theft argues that blackface minstrelsy bothembodied and disrupted the racial tendencies of its largely white, male, working-class audiences. Underwritten by envy as well as repulsion, sympathetic identification as well as fear--a dialectic of "love and theft"--the minstrel show continually transgressed the color line even as it enabled theformation of a self-consciously white working class. Lott exposes minstrelsy as a signifier for multiple breaches: the rift between high and low cultures, the commodification of the dispossessed by the empowered, the attraction mixed with guilt of whites caught in the act of culturalthievery.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 3
Blackface and Blackness: The Minstrel Show in American Culturep. 15
Love and Theft: "Racial" Production and the Social Unconscious of Blackfacep. 38
White Kids and No Kids At All: Working-Class Culture and Languages of Racep. 63
The Blackening of America: Popular Culture and National Culturesp. 89
"The Seeming Counterfeit": Early Blackface Acts, the Body, and Social Contradictionp. 111
"Genuine Negro Fun": Racial Pleasure and Class Formation in the 1840sp. 136
California Gold and European Revolution: Stephen Foster and the American 1848p. 169
Uncle Tomitudes: Racial Melodrama and Modes of Productionp. 211
Afterwordp. 234
Notesp. 239
Bibliographyp. 277
Indexp. 305
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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