Modern Minstrel Show


 
a white man in blackface

a white man in blackface

    While I was in Birmingham this weekend, I scanned through the radio stations just to get an idea of what is played in the area. I have a weird habit of punching scan as I drive through or to another city/state to hear what their frequencies are serving up.Of course I wasn’t shocked when I came across the “hip hop and r&b” stations who were serving up the same playlists. This sparked a discussion between me and my pops about radio. I asked him, “Why do they tune in?”. Most of the songs that are being pushed on the radio all sound the same. Same drum patterns, spacey sound, simple chord progressions, and to top it off, no lyrical content worth repeating. Yet, they press on, making it to the 106 and Park countdown and then on to teeny bopper Ipods across America.

    Clearly there’s an audience in the U.S. not being acknowledged by radio, and frankly,  i’m ok with that. I’m also ok with BET being Black Exploitation Television. My problem is with people (my people) not being information seekers and allowing these so called “black media outlets” pick and choose what’s hot and what represents us. Hip hop, rap and all that belongs to us. It is ours, and i’mnot clear on why we allow corporate America to form an image of us but not by us. The Jim Crow era ended years ago, not to mention, during that time, we had little or no control over how we were depicted in the mass media. I feel like we’ve re-entered a cycle that my father’s and grandfather’s generations fought so hard to break. Think about it for a minute, from the early 1800’s until the late 1930’s, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America. For those that need a quick histoy lesson, a minstrel show was an American form of entertainment consisting of black stereotypically driven comedy skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface. This popular form of American entertainment lampooned black people in disparaging ways: ignorant, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and too joyous. Now out of those 5 words I listed, i’m certain most of us can agree that two of them best describes what we see and hear when we tune into modern, mainstream media’s perception of  black people (entertainment wise I mean): ignorant and buffoonish..When I turn on the radio most of the time I hear ignorance, then I turn on BET and most of the time I see buffoonish, and unnecessary behavior, or how I put it: a modern day minstrel show.
Turn of the century minstrel show poster

Turn of the century minstrel show poster

    The cycle has started again in so many ways, and it burns me up to see that this time around, my generation is so lacksadaisical about it. Now i’m not trying to rally picketers together to march in front of the BET network offices.Why? Because the network is no longer ours anyway (that’s another blog entry y’all). I want us to take personal accountability for how we are seen, and depicted. I also want us to take personal responsibility for what we consume on the music and entertainment end.There are WAY too many good emcee’s, and artists who are willing to give you their rich, substance filled music in addition to other forms of expression. They want to tell you their personal stories, take your ears, eyes and mind so they can show you somethingnew, educate you, bring you to another level. Meanwhile, taking you somewhere you’ve never been before while you sit in your room.All of that on a silver platter, yet many of these artists go unheard. It’s time out for that. There are too many media and social outlets that are avalible for our use, therefore black people should no longer rely on what is commercially set aside for us. That one television network, or those 2 radio stations the we get in every town or major city. It’s not about fighting the machine, it’s about creating our own.
Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

    Our generation can learn a thing or two from those that came before us. Their struggle shows that we can define ourselves, drowning out and muting the negative perceptions and stereotypes. I mean, I believe it’s possible to squash the modern day minstrel show with real hip hop and emcees. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman (a white musician), Miles Davis and so many others ended the popularity of the early minstrel shows with a true artform: Jazz music, a black artform that was thought through, composed, and executed by us… for, well… everybody. I’m determined to find new artists, and emcees, meanwhile supporting the ones who’s message and sound I’m already familiar with. When I find someone, you’ll hear about it. I’ll be talking to artist to find out their point of view on the music industry and how they want to contribute to the ending of modern day minstrel shows. Stay tuned if you want to find out what artists i’m discovering and make sure to contact me if you find artists who you feel are note worthy. Hit me up 🙂 
Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

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2 comments

  1. NICE! Im with you on your mission. “Now i’m not trying to rally picketers together to march in front of the BET network offices.Why? Because the network is no longer ours anyway (that’s another blog entry y’all).” I think we should anyway… let the rest of America know that we do NOT approve.

  2. the only way it’s gonna change is supporting real artist 100% no bootlegging, go to the shows, buy a shirt… u gotta put money in their pocket and tell ya friends to as well. and you gotta support all the bullshit 0% there’s more too it. i think underground artist and fans basically need to form a union and force it into the mainstream.

    at least let’s hope 100 years from now when kids are reading about hip-hop in history books it’s more than one paragraph about lil wayne

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