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Blackface NationRace, Reform, and Identity in American Popular Music, 1812-1925$
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Brian Roberts

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226451503

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226451787.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 19 September 2021

Love Crimes

Love Crimes

(p.157) 6 Love Crimes
Blackface Nation

Brian Roberts

University of Chicago Press

This chapter reexamines the Five Points Riot as an example of “love crime” racism. That is, the rioters embraced blackface and Jim Crow even during the riot, while engaging in violent attacks against actual African Americans and white abolitionists. Blackface, as it emerged in the 1830s, was an expression of the new aggressive and masculine working class culture. Its characters embraced bodily self-expression, vulgarity, violence and anti-intellectualism, against a rising middle class culture of reform, uplift and humanitarianism. The rioters targeted both African Americans and middle-class whites who supported African American uplift and the abolition of slavery: those were not conforming to their expectations about black people, or those who appeared to be conspiring to “ruin” the authenticity of blacks. Middle class white men, however, were not willing to cede all masculinity and authenticity to the working class. By the 1840s and 1850s, songwriters like Stephen Foster blended the genre’s original impulses with nostalgia, sentiment and deep emotionalism, and increasingly focused on the character of the sentimental slave. Thus, by embracing blackface, the middle class was able to contain the threat of working class culture by consuming its rebellious style of anger, softening it with sentiment.

Keywords:   working class culture, abolitionism, Five Points Riot, blackface minstrelsy, slavery, Stephen Collins Foster, Bowery B'hoys, racism, sexuality, Dan Emmett

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