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.
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