Watching this weeks’ major media meltdown regarding Governor Northam and a college buddy having dressed in blackface and as a KKK member for I presume some kind of masquerade party is as entertaining as it is baffling. I was in elementary and middle school during the high points of the civil rights/desegregation campaign – by the time I was an adult, half a dozen years ahead of Governor Northam – civil rights for citizens of whatever color was a done deal. It was all, we thought, done and dusted. Membership in the Klan was an unsavory, disreputable thing. I ought to mention that I grew up in blue-collar California, and if there had ever been a substantial KKK presence there, it managed to escape my notice and the notice of my parents. Things must have been way different in the south-eastern US in the 1980s, I guess.

Dress in blackface as a minstrel show performer? Well … maybe as Al Jolson. And with a sparkly glove, a fancy jacket, a stuffed monkey and doing the moonwalk as Michael Jackson; that I can buy and be assured there was no racial denigration implied. As a KKK member? Definitely not; It would be like pairing with a friend to go to a costume party as an SS guard and a concentration camp inmate. Definitely edgy, double-definitely in very bad taste. Career-ending? Depends on what political party – so, again, mystification on my part.

When my lot – military and sometimes a bit edgy in the late 70sies and 80s – got frisky, we threw toga parties. (You kids – get off my lawn!) And I went to a civilian costume party at my parents’ social club in the early 90s, outfitted as a military dominatrix: uniform BDU trousers, boots and cover, with a very tight white tee shirt, brandishing a riding crop menacingly, and asking if anyone wanted a touch of military discipline. I don’t know whether to be grateful or not that there are no pictures of me in that get-up: I looked pretty darned good in it, and everyone at the party thought it was an absolute riot but then, I haven’t subsequently cultivated a career in politics, only as an internet scribbler. (I was on leave, OK? It is what I had in my luggage and available to me, on the spur of the moment. The ‘rents thought it was funny, although my next-younger brother didn’t in the least.)

Anyway, the usual suspects are either in full-hair-on-fire meltdown about the raaaaacism of it all, or alternately twisting and turning in the gyre, trying to make it all go away, or explain away the double standard, and a lot of agonizing me-tooism about costume parties and stupid things you did as a teen, or early twenties – things which once were acceptable, or perhaps slightly edgy, and now are the social-media kiss of death, depending on the political party one is identified with and to whatever level of elective office one has aimed at. Will Governor Northam emerge unscathed? Your comments and insights are invited.

29 thoughts on “Minstrelsy”

  1. Similar observations from this end. I can’t picture anyone I knew who would want to dress as a Klansman–except as a paired costume with a “black” man. “Our frat is so great that even enemies share a beer together.” Or something equally sophomoric.

    Blackface has been so far out of the mainstream culture for so long, that I wonder if there’s any continuity at all. I gather the old-style could be pretty offensive, but was this in the old tradition or felt and intended to be something else?

    Northam’s attitudes and intentions toward babies put him beyond the pale, but I’m not sure the picture is significant without context. College students often have execrable judgement. Water is wet.

  2. If I had any words of wisdom on this issue, they have escaped me.

    I will note that I never found blackface to be funny, and always thought it a disturbing and depraved sort of thing, in all respects. There’s no good way to interpret it–Either you’re mocking blacks with it, or you’re essentially stealing an identity that you don’t have in order to get ahead. To be honest, even something like doing jazz or early rock was kind of a rip-off of black culture, and if the art form couldn’t get into the mainstream because the artist was black, then it was egregiously wrong for a white artist to appropriate that art by copying it and then gaining commercial success doing it. Wouldn’t have been so bad if some credit had been given, and the resultant filthy lucre shared with the original creators, but I don’t think anyone can point to a single case of that actually having happened.

    I don’t care what the reasoning is, there’s something disturbing about it–Just like with a transvestite masquerading as a woman. You’re trying to take on an identity that’s not yours, and while that’s kinda different for play-acting purposes, there’s something fundamentally disturbing and depraved when you do it to the extent that you’re actually fooling people about who and what you are–Particularly when it’s a member of a social group which isn’t particularly oppressed putting on the markers of one that is…

    I suppose that makes me some sort of atavistic chauvinist, but there it is: Be true to what you are, and don’t try to assume the identity of someone else.

  3. Looking on the bright side — if every politician who did something silly while at high school or college has to be defenestrated, then the halls of Congress will be empty. And none of the rest of us will be able to replace them, because we all have done stupid things in the past (certainly when judged by today’s different standards). So Congress will be empty … no more new laws, no more Congresscritters getting rich by selling their votes to special interests. Wonderful!

  4. What I find is key to the question of whether Northam “emerges unscathed” is how the Democrats react to having their entire political leadership in Virginia becoming familiar with being suspended from their own petards. They have made the “rules” as to what is and is not taboo if you are not a Democrat. Suddenly, those rules are being applied to them. Which in their worldview is just not allowed. To be a Leftist [and like it or not, every Democrat is a Leftist because even if they individually claim not to believe in the latest bit of tyranny not one will oppose it or speak out against it.] has been to be above the law and Constitution. Now they are feeling what they have used against everybody else for the first time.

    Northam, like it or not since he chose the pictures in the yearbook, is tied to the KKK. The LT. Gov., who is Black, is under accusations of at least two sexual assaults with rumor of 2 or 3 more waiting in the wings. There are reports that there will be an impeachment, which is interesting because I am told [any Virginia lawyers out there?] that he can only be impeached for what he does while in office. #3 in line [the AG] has admitted appearing in blackface, and if a politician is admitting that at this point y’all know it is really worse.

    If they charge the LT. Gov and he is the only one that is punished, the professional Black civil rights “leaders” will be screaming like ruptured Bann Sidh. They are the same ones who scream racism at the most innocent things, let along blackface and the KKK.

    If they take down Northam and the AG too, the governorship falls to #4, the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates. And that is unthinkable to them.

    So I think that they [and the Media] will decide that all three will get off and racism and rape will be tolerated by the Left, for Leftists. At least for a while, which will impede their attacks on everyone else.

    It is a common bit of slang to refer to a total chaotic mess as a Chinese Fire Drill. Speaking as being Chinese, I protest this. My ethnic fellows have nothing to do with this. It is a Caucasian [and African-American] Cluster Copulation.

    Subotai Bahadur

  5. This is the only minstrel stuff I grew up with: A Wandering Minstrel.

    With one exception, right here: “Dixie” LYRICS Dan Emmett.

    Wikipedia on Dan Emmett.

    Daniel Decatur “Dan” Emmett (October 29, 1815 – June 28, 1904)[1] was an American songwriter, entertainer, and founder of the first troupe of the blackface minstrel tradition, the Virginia Minstrels.[2] …
    Emmett is traditionally credited with writing the famous song “Dixie.” The story that he related about its composition varied each time he told it, but the main points were that he composed the song in New York City while a member of Bryant’s Minstrels. The song was first performed by Emmett and the Bryants at Mechanics’ Hall in New York City on April 4, 1859. The song became a runaway hit, especially in the South, and the piece for which Emmett was most well known. Emmett himself reportedly told a fellow minstrel: “If I had known to what use they [Southerners] were going to put my song, I will be damned if I’d have written it.”[7] After the South began using his song as a rallying call, Emmett wrote the fife-and-drum manual for the Union Army. Emmett’s song was a favorite of President Abraham Lincoln, who said after the war ended in 1865, “I have always thought that ‘Dixie’ was one of the best tunes I ever heard… I insisted yesterday that we had fairly captured it.”[8]

    Dixie was one of Abraham Lincoln’s favorite songs.

    I don’t believe I have ever seen anyone in blackface.

  6. I’ve never seen anyone wearing blackface. I suspect that must be true for the overwhelming percentage of the population. And yet from listening to the MSM you’d think that as late as the 1980s (!!!) nearly every white person in most of the country wore blackface every weekend or something. It’s literally madness.

  7. I was born in 59, so i am only vaguely aware of the real fight against racism, but am aware of the aftermath as they put things back together.

    I lived in South FL, only kinda-sorta-almost “The South”…

    In the late 70s, I heard of one kid in my old neighborhood who was supposedly in the KKK, so it probably “existed” at that point in time, yet the same word also noted that they were all like the kid, small, skinny runts with no real power.

    As to blackface, nothing is coming to mind. It certainly would have been in bad taste, and generally discouraged. I suppose I might have seen it done for a costume party, though. The social disease of Political Correctness was a very mild case of the sniffles at the time, not the raging virulent leprosy it is now…

  8. Subotai: “… rape will be tolerated by the Left, for Leftists …”

    Sadly, that is not new. Does the name William Jefferson Clinton ring a bell? To echo another Leftist — guilty as sin, free as a bird.

  9. “I’ve never seen anyone wearing blackface. I suspect that must be true for the overwhelming percentage of the population. And yet from listening to the MSM you’d think that as late as the 1980s (!!!) nearly every white person in most of the country wore blackface every weekend or something. It’s literally madness.” – this.

  10. I grew up in the Bay Area in the 80s. One of my yearbooks has a picture of a guy in a KKK robe at a Halloween party. I also remember a guy at a college party dressed up as a lawn jockey, and I’m pretty sure he was in blackface. But he was Canadian, so he’s probably ok since racism apparently is only an American thing. In both cases I think they were just trying to be obnoxious rather than racist.

  11. When I was in college, my fraternity used to dress up as Fiji Islanders at the homecoming parade. Phi Gamma DEltya

    My freshman year (1956) they told us we could not do it. That far back it was a no no.

  12. I’ve only seen someone in blackface (other than TV or movies) once.
    Mid ’80’s-ish, I went to a Halloween party at a cousin’s house. He had a white neighbor one one side and a black neighbor on the other side. They came to the party as each other. Black dude in whiteface dressed up a redneck, white dude in blackface with a perfect Superfly pimp routine going.
    Was it in bad taste? Yes. That was the whole point.

  13. My theory is Northam came dressed as Michael Jackson. Then bumped into someone dressed as a Klansman they thought it was ironically funny so took a picture together. “MJ and a Klansman sharing a beer! Hilarious!”
    Shorn of context it seems super racist. But also, where do you get a Klan outfit as a costume? If this is what happened, he shouldn’t have to resign.
    I wore black face paint along with black bdus for a costume party. More scouting patrol than blackface, but taken out of context? It might look bad.

  14. It’s worth mentioning here Mickey Newbury’s seminal performance, ad lib they say, of his “The American Trilogy,” on stage at the Bitter End West in Hollywood in May 1970. The soul-wrenching and beautiful progression from Dixie to Battle Hymn to All My Trials, seemed to speak to our culture. The story is Odetta was there, brought to tears. It was a time of racial hurt and healing. Somehow we need to keep certain parts of our culture and history as markers and other things of who we are, where we have been. Music is a big part of it.
    It’s worth checking out Newbury on the tube that is you;with the violinist is the best performance.

  15. “To be honest, even something like doing jazz or early rock was kind of a rip-off of black culture, and if the art form couldn’t get into the mainstream because the artist was black, then it was egregiously wrong for a white artist to appropriate that art by copying it and then gaining commercial success doing it.”

    Nah, just means you’ve marinated in Leftism long enough to forget the nature of the creative process.


    “When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre,
    He’d ‘eard men sing by land an’ sea;
    An’ what he thought ‘e might require,
    ‘E went an’ took — the same as me!

    The market-girls an’ fishermen,
    The shepherds an’ the sailors, too,
    They ‘eard old songs turn up again,
    But kep’ it quiet — same as you!

    They knew ‘e stole; ‘e knew they knowed.
    They didn’t tell, nor make a fuss,
    But winked at ‘Omer down the road,
    An’ ‘e winked back — the same as us!”

    And that’s the way it’s ALWAYS been. Most widely used tune ever? “Greensleeves”. Amount of royalties paid? That would be $0. ZERO. And not an official Government Victim Group involved……

    Most people’s definition of “plagiarism” or “cultural appropriation” or whatever the bull$hit du jour term is ridiculously overbroad.

  16. Re: rock/ blues —

    “Race music” was a blend of new American instruments, Scottish hymns and ballads, English and Welsh Methodist hymns and ballads and swaying, French and Cajun music from New Orleans, German oompah and beer, and Irish and Jewish pop — plus a lot of different African sounds and instruments and song traditions.

    If you are the sort of person who listens to everything, you can trace and enjoy all the borrowings and crossovers that led to jazz, rock, country, rhythm and blues, etc. But American music is a real melting pot; and the weird thing is that everybody participated somehow.

  17. Graduated from high school in nineteen eighty
    from a well off town South of Boston.

    I never saw anyone in black face nor Klu Klux Klan
    activity of any kind. No rumors, stories, pictures
    hints, nothing, nada, zip.

    The high school did have a “Metco” program where in order
    to desegregate, kids were bused in to us from the tougher,
    and they were together neighborhoods of Boston. Mattapan,
    Roxbury, Dorchester. So throughout my four years of “schooling”
    black folks and white folks went to school together, ate lunch together,
    partied together and got through high school together. Of course there
    was always some loudmouth idiot/dumbass but they were quickly shut down.

    In all honesty it never occured to me, or anyone else to think about
    or participate in such activity. In my humble opinion, during this time
    period all we wanted to do was party and rut around in the dirt. We were to
    messsssssed up to be “racists”. At least I was. Anyway.

    I think the (D) party, in my opinion, is playing this strictly we hate
    the President so, so much more than the country and people we represent
    that nothing will get in the way of kicking the President and stopping the (R)
    from any power at all.

    So now the goal posts have been moved again by the (D) and apparently
    blackface, Klan robes, rape, forced sexual acts are O.K….I think?… It
    will be interesting to see how this plays out and how future “transgressions”
    are judicted in the press and in the party. It really is hard to keep up.

    Ultimately it comes down to the same old, same old.

    Double Standard.

  18. It is not a dude in the Klan robe – it is a woman. Look at the frame of the Klans(wo)man. He got married in 1987 and this is from 1984.
    Why did he say it WAS him, then it WASN’T?
    Could it be because it is his future wife and she let him have it after he said it was?

  19. Re: using tunes and songs without crediting or paying the author —

    True. A disgrace. But it didn’t just happen to black songwriters. It happened to any songwriter not in the industry and connected to publishing. The idea of many publishers and editors was that writing down and publishing the words and lyrics made the song belong to them, and many musical groups also copyrighted other people’s songs to themselves. Folk song collectors were some of the worst for this.

  20. ABOUT: “It is not a dude in the Klan robe – it is a woman. Look at the frame of the Klans(wo)man. He got married in 1987 and this is from 1984.
    Why did he say it WAS him, then it WASN’T?
    Could it be because it is his future wife and she let him have it after he said it was?”
    It would be nice to know; but not very relevant. The key fact is he wasn’t sure….how many people are not sure they were dressed up in a Klan robe?
    Just that fact is damning enough. . .. like when the cop asked you: “Did you bury a body in your backyard last weekend? ”
    “Last weekend, officer? No, I don’t think so.”

    On the other hand, I think too much is made of this sort of behavior, too.
    It’s being bratty, fratty, making fun of old fogeys, old ways, being outrageous, not unlike transvestites and drag queens; I don’t think the motive usually is “racist,” as in, Oh, if only we could get back to the days when we whiteys could own slaves.”
    It’s like vandalism; kids, nearly always boys or young men, paint swastikas on stuff; it’s not because they are hoping for a revival of hitler and the boys from brazil; it’s like mooning the mayor.
    Yes, it’s disorderly conduct at best; but it’s not a felony; and not really racist. . .can we make a distinction between racially insensitive and racist?
    Why is Ted Danson getting no crap for going blackface?
    Because everyone “knew” he wasn’t a racist, I suppose.
    But if the act itself is intrinsically racist, he’s just as guilty as Virginny’s guv. But he’s not; which makes my point.

  21. “The key fact is he wasn’t sure”
    Of course he was sure. You wouldn’t admit you were in the picture if you thought you weren’t. He thought an apology would be good enough, then it didn’t stop the calls for his ouster (the assault charges against the LG is what’s killed them), so he made up his ludicrous story that “it wasn’t me!” Then why the heck did you apologize for being in the picture then?
    PS. I don’t see why we shouldn’t think that’s him in the robe. He never said which one he was, when he was initially admitting he was in the pic.

  22. As recently as 1978 (probably within the lifetimes of most Chicago Boyz), those racist English had a popular TV show featuring honkies in blackface. There are still episodes on YouTube — although doubtless whenever one of today’s snowflakes stumbles across them, YouTube will throw them into the Memory Hole.


    “Although largely forgotten now, there was a time when the Black & White Minstrel Show was a staple diet in British homes. First airing on television in 1958 it would run for the next twenty years, pulling in audiences of 18 million at its height. In 1960 a theatrical show was launched which would run for twelve years and 6,477 performances, something of a record. And speaking of records, the Black & White Minstrel Show were to enjoy no fewer than three UK number one hit albums as well as a further three Top Ten hits. This album was their first chart topper, enjoying seven weeks at the summit.”

    It is fairly obvious that Far Leftists are doing everything they can to promote racial hatred in order to keep Americans of African heritage on the Democrat voting plantation. This will not end well.

  23. @SDN,

    You’ve stuck your own interpretation into what I was saying, which is not to decry “cultural appropriation”, which is in and of itself a bullshit proposition. What I’m against is the kind of crap that the record companies used to get up to, which was “whitewashing” black culture and selling it.

    Friend of mine in the service was a lot better versed in this stuff, and would be able to give you chapter and verse for where it happened, and when–It was more than just the Beatles copying the sound, it was outright IP theft where they’d copy the music and lyrics, give it to a “successful white artist” and then sell it on to the mainstream market–While passing peanuts along to the original creative artists.

    That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about, not the imaginary interpretation you’ve come up with for what I said. You’ll note a distinct lack of use by me of the “politically correct” terminology. What I want them to have done is to have given credit where credit was due, and put those black artists out there, up front and proud of their work. The way they snuck that crap in, and failed to credit the original artists was criminal, especially when you consider how most of the originators wound up living in poverty while watching the white front men the labels hired live large on the proceeds from the work of black artists.

  24. About stealing music; it came out over the years that Johnny Cash pretty much ripped off an old black guy when he wrote Folsom Prison; heard the record, probably in the Army in Germany, and took much of it for his great song.
    It’s a tough call: prine using the line “Give my love to Rose,” was a tribute to Cash;
    Cash used maybe a third or so of the lyrics/sound of the song that he wrote, Folsom Prison. . . ; and many of those songs came out of a misty past so it was hard to tell who “created” any one song…. ;
    Yes, black artists got ripped off ; many white ones did, too.
    chuck berry ripped off his own band mate, I think and wrote Johnny B Goode sort of as a payback tribute;; but still didn’t share a fair amount of money with the guy; is the story as I understand it.

    I think george harrison got unfairly sued and judgment against him for “My Sweet Lord” ;;; but it’s hard to see how he wasn’t influenced by “He’s So Fine,”;;; Dylan did it bigtime, they say;;; both old Public Domain stuff and other people’s more recent writing. ..;
    the Stones did it big time they say;;; invited Ry Cooder in to play around, then totally ripped off his Honky Tonk Women riffs and stuff. …;; ; Led Zeppelin, big time, too; stairway to heaven, from Peter Green, no?
    now they all just “sample” stuff; . . .;

  25. Tim, there’s the usual copying back and forth between artists, which has gone on forever–And, then there’s what the major labels did with regards to jazz and on into the rock era. It wasn’t until the ’70s that black artists started to get a fair shake, and even then…?

    I’m not enough of a music scholar to outline the details, but I’ve been forced to listen to a guy who was go over the whole thing, and then I’ve gone back to verify that what he was saying was accurate. It was, and the level of chicanery that went on was obscene. I don’t mind that white artists got successful copying black ones, but the lack of honest attribution or paying the original artists…? That’s what pisses me off.

    Forget “politically correct”, what I want is “morally right”. Fair is fair, and all this ought to be out on the surface.

    I mean, if it’s out in the mainstream, why the hell shouldn’t the actual originating artists be getting the credit?

  26. I remember a controversy in the early 80’s about blackface but I couldn’t remember the exact details.

    With a little searching I found the remake of the ‘Jazz Singer’ starring Neil Diamond from 1980, which puts it exactly when I remember.

    I think with the content of the movie and my peers it would have been the first introduction of blackface and I remember it being said far and wide how awful and dispicable practice and that it was just not done anymore.

    Does anyone else remember something similar from that era?

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