In an effort to help forestall the donning of racist Halloween costumes, Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. took the time last week to explain the painful history of blackface and minstrel shows. He was joined in that effort by none other than CUNY Professor Eric Lott, whose writing and thinking have been absolutely critical to our understanding of racial fantasy in American culture for decades, from 1993’s Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, to Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism, which we published this fall.
Have a look at Wood and Lott’s breakdown of the ways in which the mindlessly offensive racial costuming we see each Halloween is rooted in the history and politics of slavery:
In her 1993 review of the “terrifically smart and unexpectedly timely” Love and Theft, author and critic Margo Jefferson expressed the hope that Lott would pursue the threads of this American racial identity crisis into the twentieth century. With Black Mirror, that’s exactly what he’s done. In a series of chapters addressing such arts and artists as Mark Twain, film noir, Joni Mitchell, Elvis impersonators, Bob Dylan, and Barack Obama, Lott explores the ways U.S. cultural institutions have relied insistently and repeatedly on racial symbolic capital—including and above all blackface—to reproduce white cultural dominance, threatening in the process to betray the racial hegemony that generated those institutions and that they exist in order to maintain.