'The show is not about race': Custom, Screen Culture, and The Black and White Minstrel Show

Grandy, Christine (2020) 'The show is not about race': Custom, Screen Culture, and The Black and White Minstrel Show. Journal of British Studies, 59 (4). pp. 857-884. ISSN 0021-9371

Full content URL: https://doi.org/10.1017/jbr.2020.125

'The show is not about race': Custom, Screen Culture, and The Black and White Minstrel Show
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In 1967, when the BBC was faced with a petition by the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) requesting an end to the televised variety programme, The Black and White Minstrel Show (1958-1978), producers at the BBC, the press, and audience members collectively argued that the historic presence of minstrelsy in Britain rendered the practice of blacking up harmless. This article uses Critical Race Theory as a useful framework for unpacking defences that hinged both on the colour-blindness of white British audiences, and the simultaneous existence of wider customs of blacking up within British television and film. I examine a range of 'screen culture' from the 1920s to the 1970s, including feature films, home movies, newsreels, and television, that provide evidence of the existence of blackface as a type of racialised custom in British entertainment throughout this period. Efforts by organisations such as CARD, black-press publications like Flamingo, and audiences of colour, to name blacking up and minstrelsy as racist in the late 1960s were met by fierce resistance from majority white audiences and producers, who denied their authority to do so. Concepts of colour-blindness or 'racial innocence' thus become a useful means of examining, first, the wide-ranging existence of blacking up practices within British screen culture; second, a broad reluctance by producers and the majority of audiences to identify this as racist; and third, the exceptional role that race played in characterizations of white audiences, that were otherwise seen as historically fragile and impressionable in the face of screen content.

Keywords:20th century British history, media history, critical race theory, Immigration history, MACE
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V146 Modern History 1920-1949
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V147 Modern History 1950-1999
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V320 Social History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V140 Modern History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (History)
ID Code:35701
Deposited On:18 Apr 2019 08:49

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