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Blackface Minstrelsy

How did class frictions relate to blackface minstrelsy?

Dale Cockrell:
Dale Cockrell The question of the moment was, what was America going to be? And Jacksonian Democrats, common people, wanted to cast it in their own image. Minstrelsy continues that development. The large opposition is a rising American middle-class that wants to cast what it is to be American in a middle-class image. And so the conflict that minstrelsy is playing out is between America as a common-class culture or America as a middle-class culture. Music is socially defined. People who control the dictionaries say, "This is music," and "That isn't music," that that is noise out there. By 1840, 1842 or so, there is a contest going on between minstrelsy as noise and the music of the parlor tradition, representative of a middle-class tradition. Minstrelsy had clanging banjoes, it had clanking bones. It was filled with things that a middle-class culture considered beneath it and amusical. Whereas the parlor classes had pianos. They had proper instruments playing proper music. This aural environment, very much in the minds of Jacksonian Americans, was very much central to the way that they heard the world.

Middle-class culture is one that has worshipped the mind and has largely tried to divorce the body from the expression of what they are. To give expression to life energy through the body is a disruption of that middle-class value system. Minstrelsy, through the body, expressed wildness, expressed abandon, it expressed joy, it expressed sex, it expressed all of these things that the middle-class was trying to repress through a worship of the mind.





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