Mantan Moreland - Actor

Mantan Moreland - Actor

 Minstrel [min-struhl] –noun: one of a troupe of comedians, usually white men made up as black performers, presenting songs, jokes, etc.

 

I recently attended a dance competition at Georgia Tech where my daughter Dominique performed with her dance company.  Anybody that has attended these kind of competitions know that they can be quite entertaining and simultaneously arduous.

 

Young girls between the ages of 5 and 18 are meticulously dressed and made-up as they perform the dance routines for which they have obviously practiced for hours.

 

I have attended many of these events in the past; however, on this particular occasion I noticed something that I’d never noticed before while witnessing one of the troupe performances.   While it is customary for the performers to wear and exaggerate their make-up, something was a bit eerie about the way three African-American girls donned their make-up.  Their eyes and mouth appeared to be outlined in a grey-ish white hue, drumming up old stereo-typical portrayals of Blacks.

 

I am sure (at least I am hopeful) that this effect was purely unintentional.  Maybe it was just a case of poor make-up coordination and application.  Whatever the case, the effects of the minstrel-like make-up continued to disturb me for the remainder of the evening.

 

In 2000, Spike Lee wrote and directed a satirical film called “Bamboozled.”  The filmed starred Savion Glover, Damon Wayans and Tommie Davidson.  The film is about a modern televised minstrel show featuring Black actors donning blackface makeup and the violent fall-out from the show’s success.

 

The questions become, are we still being Bamboozled?  Does Black-American music, dance, theater and comedy resemble a modern day minstrel?  As an educated Black man in his early 40’s, I can’t help but to look at much (not all) of the hip-hop genre as modern-day coons.  Many from today’s hip-hop elite sport grillz, rock excessive jewelry, exploit our sistas (and yes, sistas exploit themselves too), and dress like buffoons while considering it fashionable and trendsetting.  As crazy as it sounds, our youth look up- and aspire to be like these clowns.  Even youth that have been raised in Black pride and have been afforded good educations have succumbed to exploiting themselves as modern-day Coonstrels (a cooning minstrel).

 

While my opinion of today’s coonstrels can be unforgiving, I applaud our entertainment forefathers (and mothers) who blazed trails in the entertainment industry in the early 1900’s.  Some notables that come to mind include: Stepin Fetchit; Hattie McDaniel; Mantan Moreland; Tim Moore and others.  I am convinced that their entertainment opportunities paved the way for our people to be able to enjoy various forms of Black entertainment today.

 

In closing, it is my hope that we not rest on our laurels and allow the coon to slip through the cracks under the guise of “Do You.”  Becoming comfortable with what we perceive to be creative genius is nothing more than misappropriated celebration.  Simply because one has derived millions from filth does not make coonstrel acceptable.  We’ve got to check this shizzle at the door.  Educators, please don’t stop educating.  Preachers, don’t ever stop preaching.

 

I end this blog and quote from Richard Pratt, “A university professor set an examination question in which he asked what is the difference between ignorance and apathy? The professor had to give an A+ to a student who answered: I don’t know and I don’t care.” 

 

Until next time,

 

damon-signature12 

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Comments
  1. Rachel Araya says:

    This is a very important article. You are right on! While it is true that minstrelism is a disgrace to African-Americans, it is also true that the minstrel show employed numerous African-American entertainers during a time when the feelings of frustration, despair, and rage permeated Black America due to race discrimination. Race discrimination still bars African-Americans in the entertainment industry and consigns many African-Americans to low-paying jobs. Unfortunately, discrimination makes some people resort to caricaturing and depicting their own community as being both credulous and stupid. We need to move up the socio-economic ladder; however, we also need to put an end to modern-day minstrelism. Today, we have a golden opportunity to heal this painful part of our past. In this land of freedom, we must truly learn how to be free.

  2. Lisa says:

    You go, boy! Now you know that I am not afraid to speak my mind about anything. My momma used to say, “if the truth kill a man, let him die”!! Some people are really just unable to deal with reality. This stuff has been going on forever and a day. Mel and I just had a conversation about people not wanting to hear the truth about the community, the church, tv, schools, your so-called friends, or most of all themselves. Oh well, let them keep running they will either get tired of being wrong or tired of running, either way-they may be worn down enough to finally hear!!

    I applaud all that you do to keep us enlightened and uplifted. Those who drop off were not meant to be in for the long haul anyway! We will continue to pray for them.

    Peace and Blessings…LSB

  3. Mrs. Sharper says:

    I totally agree that we have to continue to be aware that being “bamboozled” is still possible. However, I believe that as a Black American criticizing the Black American entertainer only leads to us bamboozling ourselves. Why should we criticize today’s black entertainer who in some cases (not all), are extremely intelligent and educated, highly creative and confident enough to not be “used” (exploited), unlike the entertainers in the 1900’s however choose wisely to use their talents and style to create and start trends that set standards all over the world. In response to your closing..You shouldn’t continue to hope we are slipping through the cracks by making millions modeling minstrel entertainment, under the guise of “Do You”. However you should be extremely Proud that by Doing US, we as Black Americans can finally express and become owners of what we do and more importantly get the credit and pay we finally deserve.

  4. Kay says:

    As a young woman influenced by a variety of cultures, I have a great love and appreciation for the Arts. With that being said, I think when exploring music, dance, and drama, it is very difficult to critique it. To judge someone and their artistry would be against what “the ARTS” stand for. It is a platform for expressing all aspects of the emotion, the mind, and the spirit. I also have the role as an educator and I am responsible for influencing and molding minds and our future. Therefore, I do believe there should be some discretion for what is displayed and shown to our children. They should be able to formulate art as they see it and feel it, and not being totally influenced by others. What is currently being displayed as art by the African American culture seems to lack creativity and originality which cuases me to question its quality. It isn’t a matter of whether it is buffonery but more so is it a copy. Why aren’t are young people coming up with new and exciting songs and dances instead of alterations and remixes of what already exist? Is there a lack of exposure or a lack of access to the means that they need to be original artists, or is it that the same people are in charge who have always been in charge and don’t allow a platform for them to be original and still become famous and get paid? Perhaps someone in the African American culture who has the platform or means to one should allow for the artists who are unique to be heard, then we would have variety and wouldn’t need to question whether we’re being bamboozled because then we would be representing ourselves on all levels.

  5. Valerie says:

    We’ve come so close yet we are so far away. Unfortunately, the media (celebrities, MTV, reality TV, etc.) can have more influence on our children than we. Also, unfortunate is that so many parents don’t question what their children do and wear because they don’t see anything wrong with it and think it’s ok.

    Some of what we see is a result of poor parenting. We need to spend more quality time with our children, discussing things that are relevant to understanding our history, what’s acceptable and what’s not. They also need to understand why.

    If you head over to my blog, you will see that I wrote a post last week about hip hop artist using the N word.

  6. B Johnson says:

    “Thats deep. I, also, have a problem with the style of dress perferred by our youth. They look like clowns with rainbow colors and baggy clothes. It seems so hard for our people to see the writing on the wall. We seem to have blinders on. Maybe, the truth hurts so bad that it is more soothing to ignore the obvious. Lil’ Wayne is a prime example of a Minstrel. He has tattoos on his eye lids. WHY? He has disgraced our entertainers of the past!!!!”

    • Angie says:

      I totally agree about Lil Wayne….while some of his music I do like his look these days is rather scary and sometimes embarrassing.

  7. CH Jackson says:

    “Hello Brother. I love reading your Blogs and I must say, you are definitely on point with your latest entry. Bravo!!”

  8. Kelly says:

    Once again you have given us something to think about. You surely don’t have to tell me how our young people idolize our modern day buffoons; pants sagging, talking the talk; they don’t have a clue. Thanks for keeping us informed

  9. KT says:

    Well once again Mr Duncan you have hit the nail right on its head with this one. Today’s minstrel’s are the record companies that tell alot of the hip hop artist how to dress what to rap about and what the video will look like. In their sick twisted minds they believe that this is what hip hop is about…saggy jeans big jewels and naked women. Yes and some of the artist play into this role just like those who did it back in the day. They may not have wanted too but they did it to feed themselves and family. Check out Kat Williams last stand up Pimpin Pimpin… in his act he talks about how he hosted the Flavor Flav Roast and what the writers had written for him. They called Flavor Flav a Krispy Crackly Coon. You have to hear how he felt reading and saying these words about another entertainer. He did not want to do it and felt bad (check it out) Great Blog keep them coming!

  10. Karen J says:

    I normally don’t write anything I just have been reading your blogs Dr. Duncan. I must say this one has really got my attention. My great grandfather use to be a Minstrel. I always heard how my great grandfather was rejected by his own people for being a Minstrel and all the chaos it caused. My grandfather said he did what he had to do to keep food on their table. My great grandfather was a great dancer and a singer as well as a comedian but due to the fact that he was not accepted as he was he had to become a Minstrel to survive. He was never happy about what he did he really was ashamed. He stopped my grandfather and my great aunt from working in the business due to the racism and the terrible things that blacks had to endure in the entertainment business. This is something my family has never been really proud of in fact they try not to speak about it. I love my greatgrandfather even though I never knew him. He had to be a strong man to deal with the pressure from home and friends. Thanks for the blog Dr. Duncan

  11. Craig says:

    Hey did Whoopi Goldberg’s ex man can’t think of his name dress like a Minstrel at a Roast for Whoopi??? I thought I read that. I thought only white folks dress up like that. Well they now they don’t put make up on they just lay out and get a tan!!! Man white folks have been trying to bambooling us since Jim Crow!!! Good blog man good blog. My wife friend told her about your blogs on facebook. So she shared with me. I had to write something man. Two thumbs up to you man!

  12. Freeman Press says:

    I hope it’s a one time thing but in all competitions everyone is looking for a new angle. Also, I found your blog through Dream and Hustle I’ll keep following.

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