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Abstract

The blackface minstrel show is often disregarded in both popular and professional discourse when American popular culture is being examined. Often dismissed as a unilateral, purely racist spectacle, this paper argues for a more nuanced understanding of blackface minstrelsy and its formative role in the creation of a trans-regional American culture. Through an exploration of the ways in which ethnic minorities, women, language, and histrionics were presented on the blackface minstrel stage, an understanding of the ways in which popular entertainments both reflect and create popular sentiment can be formed. As the dominant American cultural output of the 19th century, an understanding of blackface minstrelsy is integral to an understanding of the fluid and varied mores of racism, male privilege, and white privilege which linger in varying degrees to this day. This piece is intended to serve as an introduction to the ways in which 19th century Americans and their modern counterparts used and use blackface tropes to both reinforce and question the place of social hierarchies in a country founded on the premise that “all men are created equal”.

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