Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. American Studies Program


Cedric Bryant

Second Advisor

Jill Gordon

Third Advisor

Michael Marlais


Blackface minstrelsy began as a racially derisive form of early nineteenth century white working class stage entertainment that essentialized blackness into an object of social ridicule. Racial burlesque coupled with gender performance stigmatized. popular representations of black womanhood. Repetition of blackface minstrelsy's negative images solidified the black woman's stereotyped mainstream identity as a subordinate group with equally overlapping social forms of oppression. Within the first fifty years of repetitious blackface performance, the objectifying images of black female inferiority constructed a dominant American racist and sexist ideology. The black woman was either the Mammy or the Jezebel. For blacks, the only way to change the mainstream image was to join the ranks of the signifiers. I will employ Marxist theory of historical progression and adapt a theorized. evolutionary process of racial, cultural, and social ideological building to serve as a model displaying how negative minstrel images of black women became dominant social ideology. I will then employ Henry Louis Gates theory of ''The Signifying Monkey" to explain how African Americans on the minstrel stage (re) produced images of the black woman with powerful yet subtle subversions, and how these images saved mainstream black feminine representations from universal ridicule.


Minstrel shows -- United States -- History, Minstrel shows, Blackface entertainers -- United States, African Americans -- Color -- Social aspects, African American women -- Social conditions, African Americans in popular culture, African American women -- Public opinion -- History