In the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA), an all-black vaudeville circuit organized in 1909, blackface acts were a popular staple. Called "Toby" for short, performers also nicknamed it "Tough on Black Actors" (or, variously, "Artists" or "Asses"), because earnings were so meager. Still, TOBA headliners like Tim Moore and Johnny Hudgins could make a very good living, and even for lesser players, TOBA provided fairly steady, more desirable work than generally was available elsewhere. Blackface served as a springboard for hundreds of artists and entertainers—black and white—many of whom later would go on to find work in other performance traditions. For example, one of the most famous stars of Haverly's European Minstrels was Sam Lucas, who became known as the "Grand Old Man of the Negro Stage". Lucas later played the title role in the 1914 cinematic production of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. From the early 1930s to the late 1940s, New York City's famous Apollo Theater in Harlem featured skits in which almost all black male performers wore the blackface makeup and huge white painted lips, despite protests that it was degrading from the NAACP. The comics said they felt "naked" without it.
The minstrel show was appropriated by the black performer from the original white shows, but only in its general form. Blacks took over the form and made it their own. The professionalism of performance came from black theater. The black minstrels gave the shows vitality and humor that the white shows never had. As the black social critic, LeRoi Jones has written:
"It is essential to realize that...the idea of white men imitating, or caricaturing, what they consider certain generic characteristics of the black man's life in American is important if only because of the Negro's reaction to it. (And it is the Negro's reaction to America, first white and then black and white America, that I consider to have made him such a unique member of this society."
The black minstrel performer was not only poking fun at himself but in a more profound way, he was poking fun at the white man. The cakewalk is caricaturing white customs, while white theater companies attempted to satirize the cakewalk as a black dance. Again, as LeRoi Jones notes:
"If the cakewalk is a Negro dance caricaturing certain white customs, what is that dance when, say, a white theater company attempts to satirize it as a Negro dance? I find the idea of white minstrels in blackface satirizing a dance satirizing themselves a remarkable king of irony—which, I suppose is the whole point of minstrel shows"
The degree to which blackface performance drew on authentic African American culture and traditions is controversial. Blacks, including slaves, were influenced by white culture, including white musical culture. Certainly this was the case with church music from very early times. Complicating matters further, once the blackface era began, some blackface minstrel songs unquestionably written by New-York-based professionals (Stephen Foster, for example) made their way to the plantations in the South and merged into the body of African American folk music.
However, it seems clear that American music by the early 19th century was an interwoven mixture of many influences, and that blacks were quite aware of white musical traditions and incorporated these into their music.
"In the early years of the nineteenth century, white-to-black and black-to-white musical influences were widespread, a fact documented in numerous contemporary accounts.... It becomes clear that the prevailing musical interaction and influences in the nineteenth century American produced a black populace conversant with the music of both traditions."
Early blackface minstrels often claimed that their material was largely or entirely authentic, but there is little reason to believe that this was anything other than hype. Still, well into the 20th century, even scholars took this at face value. Constance Rourke, one of the founders of what is now known as cultural studies, largely assumed this as late as 1931. In the Civil Rights era there was a strong reaction against this view, to the point of denying that blackface was anything other than a white racist counterfeit.Starting no later than Robert Toll's Blacking Up (1974), a "third wave" has systematically studied the origins of blackface, and has put forward a nuanced picture: that blackface did, indeed, draw on African American culture, but that it transformed, stereotyped, and even caricatured that culture, resulting in often racist representations of black characters.
As discussed above, this picture becomes even more complicated after the Civil War, when many African Americans became blackface performers. They drew on much material of undoubted slave origins, but they also drew on a professional performer's instincts, while working within an established genre, and with the same motivation as white performers to make exaggerated claims of the authenticity of their own material.Author Strausbaugh summed up as follows: "Some minstrel songs started as Negro folk songs, were adapted by White minstrels, became widely popular, and were readopted by Blacks," writes Strausbaugh. "The question of whether minstrelsy was white or black music was moot. It was a mix, a mutt -- that is, it was American music."
The darky icon itself—googly-eyed, with inky skin; exaggerated white, pink or red lips; and bright, white teeth—became a common motif in entertainment, children's literature, mechanical banks and other toys and games of all sorts, cartoons and comic strips, advertisements, jewelry, textiles, postcards, sheet music, food branding and packaging, and other consumer goods.In 1895, the Golliwogg surfaced in Great Britain, the product of American-born children's book illustrator Florence Kate Upton, who modeled her rag doll character Golliwogg after a minstrel doll she had in the U.S. as a child. "Golly", as he later affectionately came to be called, had a jet-black face; wild, woolly hair; bright, red lips; and sported formal minstrel attire. The generic British golliwog later made its way back across the Atlantic as dolls, toy tea sets, ladies' perfume, and in myriad other forms. This word golliwog may have given rise to the ethnic slur wog.
U.S. cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s often featured characters in blackface gags as well as other racial and ethnic caricatures. Blackface was one of the influences in the development of characters such as Mickey Mouse. The United Artists 1933 release "Mickey's Mellerdrammer"—the name a corruption of "melodrama" thought to harken back to the earliest minstrel shows—was a film short based on a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin by the Disney characters. Mickey, of course, was already black, but the advertising poster for the film shows Mickey with exaggerated, orange lips; bushy, white sidewhiskers; and his now trademark white gloves.
In the U.S., by the 1950s, the NAACP had begun calling attention to such portrayals of African Americans and mounted a campaign to put an end to blackface performances and depictions. For decades, darky images had been seen in the branding of everyday products and commodities such as Picaninny Freeze, the Coon Chicken Inn restaurant chain and Darkie toothpaste (renamed Darlie) and Blackman mops in Thailand. With the eventual successes of the modern day Civil Rights Movement, such blatantly racist branding practices ended in the U.S., and blackface became an American taboo.
Over time, blackface and darky iconography became artistic and stylistic devices associated with art deco and the Jazz Age. By the 1950s and '60s, particularly in Europe, where it was more widely tolerated, blackface became a kind of outré, camp convention in some artistic circles. The Black and White Minstrel Show was a popular British musical variety show that featured blackface performers, and remained on British television until 1978. Actors and dancers in blackface appeared in music videos such Grace Jones's "Slave to the Rhythm" (1980, also part of her touring piece A One Man Show) and Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz" (1984).Darky iconography, while generally considered taboo in the U.S., still persists around the world. When trade and tourism produce a confluence of cultures, bringing differing sensibilities regarding blackface into contact with one another, the results can be jarring. Darky iconography is still popular in Japan today, but when Japanese toymaker Sanrio Corporation exported a darky-icon character doll (the doll, Bibinba, had fat, pink lips and rings in its ears) in the 1990s, the ensuing controversy prompted Sanrio to halt production. Foreigners visiting the Netherlands in November and December are often shocked at the sight of whites in classic blackface as a character known as Zwarte Piet, whom many Dutch nationals love as a holiday symbol. Travelers to Spain have expressed dismay at seeing "Conguito", a tubby, little brown character with full, red lips, as the trademark for Conguitos, a confection manufactured by the LACASA Group. In Britain, "Golly", a golliwog character, fell out of favor in 2001 after almost a century as the trademark of jam producer James Robertson & Sons; but the debate still continues whether the golliwog should be banished in all forms from further commercial production and display, or preserved as a treasured childhood icon. Today golliwog dolls are reappearing in toy shops throughout Britain.
The influence of blackface on branding and advertising, as well as on perceptions and portrayals of blacks, generally, can be found worldwide. Black and brown products, particularly, such as licorice and chocolate, remain commodities most frequently paired with darky iconography.
In Dutch and Flemish folklore, Zwarte Piet—"Black Pete"—is a servant of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas). The addition of Zwarte Piet to the Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) celebration is though to have originated from a custom on the Dutch islands in the Waddenzee. Once a year young men would cover their faces in ashes and terrorize the streets. This blackening of the face was thought to make the men look like the devil, who they expected to have a black face. In the past, Zwarte Piet was more identified with the chastising of bad children than the rewarding of the good, but both characters have softened since the mid-19th century, and today the 5 December feast of Saint Nicholas is mainly an occasion for giving gifts to children. Zwarte Piet inherited many of the classic darky icons, contemporaneous with the spread of darky iconography. To this day, holiday revellers in the Netherlands blacken their faces, wear afro wigs and bright red lipstick, and walk the streets throwing candy to passers-by.Accepted without question in the past within a ethnically homogeneous nation, today there is some controversy regarding Zwarte Piet. Many people continue to enjoy this as a cherished tradition and look forward to his annual appearance, whilst others, especially overseas visitors, see him as a racist caricature and fear it shapes Dutch children's perceptions of black people. As a result of the allegations of racism, some of the Dutch have tried replacing Zwarte Piet's blackface makeup with face paint in alternative colors such as green or purple. This practice, however, has been ridiculed.
Inspired by blackface minstrels who visited Cape Town, South Africa, in 1848, former Javanese and Malaysian slaves took up the minstrel tradition, holding emancipation celebrations which consisted of music, dancing and parades. In the African-American cakewalk tradition, their songs often parodied their former masters and the privileged, white class. Such celebrations eventually became consolidated into an annual, year-end event known as the Cape Coon Carnival.
Today, carnival minstrels are mostly Coloured ("mixed race"), Afrikaans-speaking revellers. Often in a pared-down style of blackface which exaggerates only the lips, they parade down the streets of the city in colorful costumes, in a celebration of Creole culture. Participants also pay homage to the carnival's African-American roots, playing Negro spirituals and jazz featuring traditional Dixieland jazz instruments, including horns, banjos, and tambourines.Over time, carnival participants have appropriated the term coon and do not regard it as a pejorative. However, city officials changed the name of the celebration to the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival in 2003, so as to avoid offending tourists. Former South African president Nelson Mandela endorsed the carnival in 1986, and is a member of the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association, which presides over the event. Now officially more than a hundred years old, the carnival has become a major tourist attraction, vigorously promoted by the nation's tourism authority, complete with corporate sponsorship . In any case, the South African term Kaapse Klopse, meaning "Cape Town Carnival Troupes Festival", is not controversial in any means whatsoever.
The darky, or coon, archetype that blackface played such a profound role in creating remains a persistent thread in American culture. Animation utilizing darky iconography aired on U.S. television routinely as late as the mid-1990s, and still can be seen in specialty time slots on such networks as TCM. In 1993, white actor Ted Danson ignited a firestorm of controversy when he appeared at a Friars Club roast in blackface, delivering a risqué shtick written by his then love interest, African-American comedienne Whoopi Goldberg. Recently, gay white performer Chuck Knipp has used drag, blackface, and broad racial caricature while portraying a character named "Shirley Q. Liquor" in his cabaret act, generally performed for all-white audiences. Knipp's outrageously stereotypical character has drawn criticism and prompted demonstrations from black, gay and transgender activists.
An example of the fascination in American culture with racial boundaries and the color line is demonstrated in the popular duo Amos 'n' Andy, characters played by two white men who performed the show in blackface. They gradually stripped off the blackface makeup during live 1929 performances while continuing to talk in dialect. This fascination with color boundaries had been well-established since the beginning of the century, as it also had been before the Civil War.
In New Orleans in the early 1900s, a group of African American laborers began a marching club in the annual Mardi Gras parade, dressed as hobos and calling themselves "The Tramps". Wanting a flashier look, they later renamed themselves "Zulus" and copied their costumes from a blackface vaudeville skit performed at a local black jazz club and cabaret. The result is one of the best known and most striking krewes of Mardi Gras, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Dressed in grass skirts, top hats and exaggerated blackface, the Zulus of New Orleans are controversial as well as popular.
The wearing of blackface was once a traditional part of the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. Growing dissent from civil rights groups and the offense of the black community led to a 1964 official city policy ruling out blackface.
In 1959, white journalist John Howard Griffin used drugs and sunlamp treatments to darken his skin in order to investigate how African Americans lived in the deep South. His resultant bestselling book, Black Like Me (1961), was influential in helping white Americans to understand the reality of Jim Crow-ism in the South during the lead-in to the civil rights era.
Former Illinois congressman and House Republican party minority leader Bob Michel caused a minor stir in the early 1990s, when he fondly recalled minstrel shows in which he had participated as a young man and expressed his regret that they had fallen out of fashion.
Blackface and minstrelsy also serve as the theme of Spike Lee's film Bamboozled (2000). It tells of a disgruntled black television executive who reintroduces the old blackface style and is horrified by its success.In recent years, there have been several inflammatory blackface "incidents" where white college students donned blackface as part of possibly innocent, but insensitive, gags, or as part of an acknowledged climate of racism and intolerance on campus. Such incidents usually escalate around Halloween, with students often acting out racist stereotypes.
In November 2005, controversy erupted when African American journalist Steve Gilliard posted a photograph on his blog. The image was of black Republican Maryland lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele, then a candidate for U.S. Senate. It had been doctored to include bushy, white eyebrows and big, red lips. The caption read, "I's simple Sambo and I's running for the big house." Gilliard defended the image, commenting that the politically conservative Steele has "refused to stand up for his people."Further, commodities bearing iconic darky images, from tableware, soap and toy marbles to home accessories and T-shirts, continue to be manufactured and marketed in the U.S. and elsewhere. Some are reproductions of historical artifacts, while others are so-called "fantasy" items, newly designed and manufactured for the marketplace. There is a thriving niche market for such item in the U.S., particularly, as well as for original artifacts of darky iconography. The value of vintage "negrobilia" pieces has risen steadily since the 1970s.
Blackface in the Japanese culture has developed with different intentions from other cultures, as it reflects a conscious embrace of African and African-American culture. According to Joe Wood, "they wear blackface in order to embrace black people." For many years the Japanese have appreciated African American musical styles, notably jazz, funk, rock ‘n’ roll, and hip hop. Groups that have incorporated blackface into their act include Rats & Star and The Gospellers.
Japanese encounters with black people dates back to 1853 when Commodore Perry "re-opened" Japan and brought with him a troupe of minstrels. Much contact with American blacks took place after World War II. In reference to the experiences of African American servicemen in Japan, Ben Hamamoto writes, "Many felt a noticeable difference being in a country that did not have a history of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy and found genuine curiosity more than prejudice colored their experiences with Japanese people."
Ganguro, literally "black-face", is a fashion trend among many Japanese girls which peaked in popularity from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. Ganguro is believed to have started as a kind of revenge against the traditional norm in Japanese society as to what feminine beauty should be.
In an interview with Tony Barrell, Creator of FRUiTS magazine, Shoichi Aoki, stated: "Where they came from is actually a mystery, no one really knows but there is some speculation that they were girls who were infatuated or fascinated with Janet Jackson or black American musicians or perhaps Naomi Campbell, the supermodel, but it’s still a mystery what their origins were."There is some dispute surrounding the etymology of the word "ganguro." Many claim the name itself, "Black face" support this. This also goes against Ganguro itself, because many people are seeing it as racist and comparing it to the Blackface of early 1900's culture in America.
There are black face performance traditions the origins of which stem not from representation of racial stereotype and are not in the stereotypical blackface mode. In Europe there are a number of folk dances or folk performances in which the black face appears to represent the night, or the coming of the longer nights associated with winter. Many fall or autumn North European folk black face customs are employed ritualistically to appease the forces of the oncoming winter, utilizing characters with blackened faces, or black masks.In Bacup, Lancashire, England, the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers wear black faces. Some believe the origin of this dance can be traced back to the influx of Cornish miners to northern England, and the black face relates to the dirty blackened faces associated with mining.
"Despite its racist portrayals, blackface minstrelsy was the conduit through which African-American and African-American-influenced music, comedy, and dance first reached the American mainstream. It played a seminal role in the introduction of African-American culture to world audiences. Wrote jazz historian Gary Giddings in Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903-1940:"
"Though antebellum (minstrel) troupes were white, the form developed in a form of racial collaboration, illustrating the axiom that defined - and continues to define - American music as it developed over the next century and a half: African-American innovations metamorphose into American popular culture when white performers learn to mimic black ones"
In a specific example of this, from Ted Fox's Showtime at the Apollo
" Elvis Presley, a young, still raw hayseed, was making his first trip to the Big Apple to see his new record company, and the Apollo was where he wanted to be. Night after night in New York he sat int the Apollo transfixed by the pounding rhythms, the dancing and prancing, the sexual spectacle of rhythm-and-blues masters like Bo Diddley...In 1955, Elvis's stage presence was still rudimentary. But watching Bo Diddley charge up the Apollo crowd undoubtedly had a profound effect on him. When he returned to New York a few months later for his first national television appearance, on Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey's "Stage Show," he again spent hours at the Apollo after rehearsals. On the Dorsey show Elvis shocked the entire country with his outrageous hip-shaking performance, and the furor that followed made him an American sensation."
As with jazz, many of country's earliest stars, such as Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills, were veterans of blackface performance. More recently, the American country music television show Hee Haw (1969–1993) had the format and much of the content of a minstrel show.
The immense popularity and profitability of blackface were testaments to the power, appeal, and commercial viability of not only black music and dance, but also of black style. This led to cross-cultural collaborations, as Giddings writes; but, particularly in times past, to the often ruthless exploitation and outright theft of African-American artistic genius, as well—by other, white performers and composers; agents; promoters; publishers; and record company executives.
While blackface in the literal sense has played only a minor role in entertainment in recent decades, various writers see it as epitomizing an appropriation and imitation of black culture that continues today. As noted above, Strausbaugh sees blackface as central to a longer tradition of "displaying Blackness". "To this day," he writes, "Whites admire, envy and seek to emulate such supposed innate qualities of Blackness as inherent musicality, natural athleticism, the composure known as 'cool' and superior sexual endowment," a phenomemon he views as part of the history of blackface. For more than a century, when white performers have wanted to appear sexy, (like Elvis or Mick Jagger; or streetwise, (like Eminem); or hip, (like Mezz Mezzrow); they often have turned to African-American performance styles, stage presence and personas. Pop culture referencing and cultural appropriation of African-American performance and stylistic traditions-often resulting in tremendous profit-is a tradition with origins in blackface minstrelsy.The international imprint of African-American culture is pronounced in its depth and breadth, in indigenous expressions, as well as in myriad, blatantly mimetic and subtler, more attenuated forms. This "browning", à la Richard Rodriguez, of American and world popular culture began with blackface minstrelsy. It is a continuum of pervasive African-American influence which has many prominent manifestations today, among them the ubiquity of the cool aesthetic and hip hop culture.
Other types of performances involving ethnic impersonation are yellowface, in which performers adopt Asian identities; brownface, for East Indian or non-white Latino; and redface, for Native Americans. Whiteface, or paleface, is sometimes used to describe non-white actors performing white parts (for example, in the film White Chicks) or mime traditions of white makeup although it more commonly describes the clown or mime traditions of white makeup. Actors such as Dooley Wilson, famous for the role of Sam the piano player in Casablanca, earned his stage name "Dooley" from performing in whiteface as an Irishman.
In West African folk theatre and puppetry there is a tradition of satirical representation of white Europeans. Performers will wear white masks and white gloves. In the Yoruba Egungun festivals overly affectionate white couples are made fun of due to their unseemly and ridiculous behaviour. The imagery is very similar to the representation of white colonists, sometimes with a humorous undercurrent, in wood carvings from the same regions.In Thailand, actors darken their faces to portray the Negrito of Thailand in a popular play by King Chulalongkorn (1868–1910), Ngo Pa, which has been turned into a musical and a movie.