U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Race, Virginia, and Blackface: A Quick Intellectual History Grab-Bag

I find myself torn over what to write this evening. The news of several prominent politicians in Virginia having, in their past, taken photographs or been associated with people who’ve taken photographs while wearing blackface has embarrassed the state and reopened old wounds regarding race and American culture. (Never mind the revelation of sexual assault allegations against Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor.) I wish I could write something substantial about all this—an intellectual history on the use of blackface, why Virginia sits at the microcosm of this discussion, and so forth. But, for the moment, I think my best role is to provide links to valuable essays and resources that can help us think harder about blackface and its centrality in American society.

The University of South Florida’s exhibits on the history of minstrelsy should be given a look—especially their page on blackface.

Jelani Cobb’s piece for the New Yorker, not surprisingly, brings together the related histories of Southern politics and American culture in his usual deft fashion.

For a different perspective on blackface, African American culture, and appropriation of said culture—indeed, putting it in a global context—Black Perspectives’ interview by Kira Thurman with Priscilla Layne about Dr. Layne’s new book on African American popular culture in post-World War II Germany, White Rebels in Black, now takes on a new importance. American forms of racism have never stopped at the nation’s borders.

Finally, a couple of books I’d like to recommend: Jane Dailey’s Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia is worth a read to understand how different Virginia’s experience was from much of the rest of the South during and immediately after Reconstruction. Also, this week has proven to be an appropriate time for the re-release of the classic Gender and Jim Crow by Glenda Gilmore. Both works provide a critical background to modern day issues of Southern politics, racism, and backlash.

I hope this list proves to be helpful to people interested in the deeper histories being unleashed, once more, by the past foibles of American politicians. Feel free to add more in the comments.

2 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Always grateful for an “intellectual history grab-bag” post that can help create more informed dialogues. Thanks, Rob! Dr. Rhae Lynn Barnes (Princeton) is another scholar to add to this list of must-reads.

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S-USIH Comment Policy

We ask that those who participate in the discussions generated in the Comments section do so with the same decorum as they would in any other academic setting or context. Since the USIH bloggers write under our real names, we would prefer that our commenters also identify themselves by their real name. As our primary goal is to stimulate and engage in fruitful and productive discussion, ad hominem attacks (personal or professional), unnecessary insults, and/or mean-spiritedness have no place in the USIH Blog’s Comments section. Therefore, we reserve the right to remove any comments that contain any of the above and/or are not intended to further the discussion of the topic of the post. We welcome suggestions for corrections to any of our posts. As the official blog of the Society of US Intellectual History, we hope to foster a diverse community of scholars and readers who engage with one another in discussions of US intellectual history, broadly understood.