Blackface Minstrelsy and the digital „gaze“- Online-Identity formation

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This Post is in direct connection to my previous entry and the attached discussion, which was evolving around the matter of identity formation and role ascription.  When I first came across the Blackface Minstrelsy Phenomenon I had trouble grasping the idea behind it. The Minstrel shows were extremly popular in the US. The Blackface Minstrel Shows were one bloomer that came out of these years. Being utterly  racist and absurd – hardly explicable!

The Blackfaced Minstrelsy movement was triggered by white supremacist notions of blackness. It has so many facettes that it is simply not possible to go into all the details of white oppresiveness and black resistance, but since it is a pop-cultral movement not very many people know about I thought I’d better bring it up and make it known to a wider public. Another reason for bringing it up are the colonizing effects of gazing. Of looking at each other, even in relation to social networks, which to a certain extend evolve around visuality, i.e. identity formation through ascription. This post is therfore a follow up to the discussions I had on the subject with Marina (@afelia) / Lisa (@lisarosa) and @Erdrandbewohner

During the minstrel years Blacks were reduced to clumsy, exaggerated metonyms so that even colored performers – due to white gazes – had to darken their natural complexion to signify blackness „correctly”. Ralph Ellison writes, „The racial identity of the performer was unimportant, the mask was the thing (the ‚thing‘ in more ways than one), and its function was to veil the humanity of Negroes thus reduced to a sign“. Since then white audiences control signification; white audiences append meaning to the sign; white audiences signify. In this way, the darky entertainer ultimately represents not blackness, but whiteness. Hence,  the role with which they [Blacks] are identified is not, despite its ‘blackness’, Negro American  (indeed, Negroes are repelled by it); it does not find its popularity among Negroes but among whites; […] In other words, this ‘darky entertainer’ is white.

The white man’s perception, i.e. what he “’sees’ or ‘hears’ is governed by a racist epistemology of certitude, which renders blackness / otherness invisible. Only through not seeing blackness / otherness, it is rendered visible; only through not hearing the blackness / and otherness is audible.The blackface minstrelsy movement illustrates this phenomenon vividly. And from here onwards you could start drawing parallels to online-identity-formation. I admit it is daring, but why not start with a worst case scenario to contrast and finally outline the „Online“.

A movie putting these words into picture: Bamboozled by Spike Lee

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