Listen Siblings, I come in peace,
“The events which transpired five thousand years ago; Five years ago or five minutes ago, have determined what will happen five minutes from now; five years From now or five thousand years from now. All history is a current event.” – Dr. John Henrik Clarke
A Minstrel Show was a theatre show during slavery until segregation which featured Black actors in Blackface playing the part of Black fools for Europeans. This has been most all Black entertainment in America since. It’s no longer in Blackface but it’s also no longer in the theatre. From our sitcoms down to our music, our entertainment continues to reflect and inspire self-hatred. All the while we as a people, even during slavery, are notable patrons. We need to consider whether we should despise not only minstrel shows but the minstrels. Today it seems that we love both.
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Of Despising the Minstrel
By Onitaset Kumat
Em Hotep Siblings,
The quest for knowledge is the quest for instruction.
From page 168 to 172 of “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, the sub-chapters “The Minstrel Show” and “The Antidote” deal with addressing “the cruel hand” dealt to Africans in America. The sub-chapters begin with retelling ‘gangsta culture’ in the broader context of minstrel shows and in the middle suggests how typically people of any race do not hate the minstrels despite disliking the minstrel show. This latter opinion, following her otherwise superb analysis, produces a misgiving that we Africans ought address: namely, ought we despise the minstrels?
The retelling of gangsta culture in the context of the minstrel show has a profundity unusual to mainstream appeals. As minstrel shows involved Africans in America covering up in pitch-black paint, covering their mouths with white paint in a clownish manner and prancing and posturing for a White audience; gangsta rappers adopt “pitch-’Black’” personalities and speak clownishly for Whites as the rappers prance and posture for a European audience. Further as Africans in Jim Crow may have seen minstrels as ‘successes,’ so too do Africans in “The New Jim Crow” see gangsta rappers as successes. “The more things change . . ..”
However one important point ought be interjected. Though some entertainers are dignified in the U.S., most all mainstream entertainers are ‘minstrels’ even from the era prior to ‘gangsta rap.’ Entertainment by and large is something funded by Europeans for Europeans and insofar as Anti-Kemetism, as Dr. Jeffries would call it, is unaddressed, there isn’t truly any dignified “mainstream” African entertainers in the Western World. Certainly there are exceptional songs: “Say it loud!”, “Young, Gifted and Black,” “The Black National Anthem” et al. but the music that Africans produce for themselves are different from the music they produce for Europeans (compare Negro spirituals and modern gospel) and most music is produced for Europeans. Moreover, the positive messages for Africans require a scholarship atypical among even African professors let alone musicians. There are exceptions: Rass Kass’s “Nature of the Threat” and KRS-One’s “You must Learn” but exceptions do not make rules. Certainly, one should not conflate ‘gangsta rappers’ with our golden age singers, but art that doesn’t address the ethical yearnings of a people, but merely reflect the times in a way comfortable and comforting to oppressors and the oppressed is a form parallel to the minstrels of yore.
That out of the way, with Africans in America bearing a terrible affliction of self-hate and an unrelenting untold suspicion of inferiority, ought one despise the minstrel? If we look upon the question through the lens of ethics rather than from a stance of ‘pity’ then it behooves us to feel toward this ‘artist’ hatred. After all, what is the minstrel but a liar who lies for personal financial gain at the expense of a suffering, beat down people? Just imagine the nerve of some Africans to, during a time of slavery, segregation and lynching, seek profit from dismissing the pains of their ancestors and ridiculing their friends, family, community and self. And of course, this doesn’t stop with literal minstrels. Music artists of today absorb themselves in the misogyny, violence and degradation of European culture: artists like Beyonce literally expose themselves while Europeans, as from the barrels of unemployment to the leader of the IMF, rape and assault African women under a sense of entitlement. How dare they? Yet we Africans, like we did one-hundred years ago, sit back, applaud and patronize. Ought we despise the minstrel? Yes. Ought we despise modern mainstream entertainment? More so! But this is an unpopular viewpoint.
Such is the matter of despising the minstrel,
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