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brionon | 12:01 Thu 11th Jun 2015 | Society & Culture
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If it's Racist to black up for the Black and White Minstrels why isn't it racist to black up for Othello ? A really want to know !

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Who says it isn't racist to black up to play The Moor?
The whole play is a bit racist. Ban it.
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Sandy -The question is-who says it is ? As far as I know -No one . And I'd like to know why.
Basically, it is considered racist to black up for the Black And White Minstrel Show because the image that is created is a derogatory one against black people - the 'minstral' image infers that black people are simple and unintelligent entertainers.

Shakespeare's Othello speaks to racial suspicion, which was widespread in his time, as was religious persecution of the Jews, hence casting Shylock as a villain in The Merchant Of Venice.

For an actor to black up to play the role was considered a necessary part of the back story in Shakespere's time - a constant reminder for the audience that 'the Moor' is a dodgy character.

In more enlightened times, when Shakespeare can and is set in any historical, or even future context, the blacking up is considered non-essential, unless carried out simply for the tradition, which is five hundred years old.
About a million years ago I was working in a black country, and a visiting drama group arrived to do some Shakespeare plays. They were to begin with Othello. I was in the audience. A rumour began, to the effect that the (white) drama company was going to black-up. The audience got very annoyed, and started booing. The cast sensed this annoyance. The start of the performance was postponed again and again, and after about an hour the play was abandoned altogether. The entire audience agreed that it was stupid even to think of an all-white cast doing Othello, never mind to a black audience.
For Othello the audience has to suspend disbelief for the play to work whereas The Black and White Minstrel Show reflects real life as recently as the 1960s where those previously employed as Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball impersonators suddenly found their work had dried up and had to improvise and adapt.
The same thing happened at Mars when they changed Treets to Minstrels.

Chaos.
douglas - //For Othello the audience has to suspend disbelief for the play to work ...//

Quite agree.

//... whereas The Black and White Minstrel Show reflects real life as recently as the 1960s where those previously employed as Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball impersonators suddenly found their work had dried up and had to improvise and adapt. //

No it doesn't.

It reflects the American vaudeville traditions of the 1920's and 1930's.

I don't believe any of the B&WMS personnel were impersonators of any modern jazz musicians, so they would not have had that 'work' to 'dry up' and become Minstrel Show members - I am unsure how you have arrived at this scenario, but am happy to be corrected if I am mistaken.
Please don't take this the wrong way Andy, but you never seem to get the joke.

If I put BAZINGA at the end it'll waste it for everybody else.
douglas - //Please don't take this the wrong way Andy, but you never seem to get the joke. //

Absolutely no danger of that doug - humour is often lost in translation once it goes into print - it is part of the cross we all bear for communicating in print - misunderstandings can and do crop up.

//... If I put BAZINGA at the end it'll waste it for everybody else...//

I would suggest that your irony was so far out on the subtlety scale that I was far from being the only one who missed it!
It isn't racist to black up for the Black and White Minstrels. But it offends some folk who like to be offended.
Old_Geezer - //It isn't racist to black up for the Black and White Minstrels....//

Er, it is actually!
Er, it isn't actually!
Ohhhhhhh yes it is!!!
My dad is bigger than your dad :-p
Not difficult - my dad's dead!!!

LOL!
// The whole play is a bit racist. Ban it.//

dont ban it - re-write it for modern tastes
that has been done before - think Bowdler.

we could even use the Bowdler line - "thou has played the trumpet in my bed" The original was 'strumpet' dear dear

The re write could star a white Lesbian and be renamed Othella
-- answer removed --
@brionon

In Shakespear's day, a white actor blacking up was a justifiable response to scarcity - of black people *at all*, let alone actors (what's the standard percentage of the population, I wonder?), let alone actors or male-lead calibre (a percentage of the previous percentage).

Blacking up in the present day, with our present ethnic mix, implies hiring a white actor where perfectly good BME/Moroccan/other North African/Arab* actors are available for hire.

So it's not the application of makeup to a face which is a racist act, it is the discrimination at the casting of the production which would be racist.

* Arguably, the word 'Moor' refers to the Almoravid/Almohad cultures, who left their architectural stamp on the Iberian peninsular but were more Arabic than sub-Saharan.

B&WMS is something I dimly recall from childhood. Never really understood what it was supposedly 'celebrating'. I wonder if minstrels represent the time immediately post emancipation when, okay, they were free… yet no-one would hire them? They owned no tools, even if they possessed skills, had no capital to set up a business, so their only resort was song and dance?

Literally having to sing for ones supper must be a grim existence and hardly something to celebrate. It is anyones' guess whether it was hard to find 40-odd dancers of the appropriate ethnicity, in the 60s-70s or whether they were available but would have been incensed at the suggestion of performing those specific songs and dances.

In other AB debates, we sometimes express worry about childhood indoctrination and I wonder what insidious effects this show might have had on young minds, even if exposure was limited to the few minutes before the credits. Even Morecombe and Wise used Al Jolson jestures, years after B&WMS was canned.

When the caricature (of an entire ethnicity, not a specific individual) is firmly embedded in the mind, years before you meet such people in real life, it requires mental effort to avoid conflating their attributes with those of the caricature. Lumping the new acquaintance in with the crude stereotype is just laziness.




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