Vaudeville and the American Entertainment Industry

8 May

Vaudeville, Jim Crow, Blackface, Minstrelsy. These are all words associated with the early 1900’s and rise of the American music industry.

Riddled with stereotypes, racism and demoralizing acts, Vaudeville acted as a catalyst to keep the white privileged and the black in the service industry.

white actor in blackface

Blackface was an entertainment act put on by both black and white actors in order to illustrate “blackness” to entertain a white audience.  By acting on and reinforcing black stereotypes, the actors were able to make a comedy out of such differences between the black and white community. Actors, whose faces were painted a very dark shade of black save the area around their lips in order to illustrate a large mouth and large lips, would dance on command, speak in long drawls, eat watermelon, “lie” and “steal” in order to create a degrading form of entertainment.

An interesting fact was that black actors would paint their faces even darker in these entertainment acts. America was under the impression that the darker the skin, the less privileged the individual. This is often why house slaves tended to be of lighter color than workers who were in the fields.

Looking at the example of Amos and Andy, we’re able to see how the black invidivuals are portrayed as irresponsible (by causing traffic) and lazy (by refusing to do anything about it) and clumsy and lesser privileged (by showing their damaged car and how they falter around it). We then are shown the relationship between those characters and a while male who speaks fluently, wears nice clothing and acts as gentlemen.

Even in the YouTube comments for this video we’re able to see how America is still torn between whether or not this act of entertainment was politically correct or unjust.

These types of acts assisted in the racial categorization of African American people according to the website Blackface!:

  • “Jim Crow”: originated from Thomas “Daddy” Rice’s dancing jig to the tune “Jump Jim Crow”.
  • “Zip Coon”: originated from George Dixon’s performance that mocked the free blacks which showed him dressed lavishly, however spoke with misused puns and vocabulary to make him appear ignorant and naive.
  • “Mammy”: a independent and stern black woman
  • “Uncle Tom”: a old, wise, good, gentle banjo playing man.
  • “Buck”: A big, proud black man who is interested in white women.
  • “Wench”: A temptress, typically a man dressed as a woman.
  • “Mulatto / Mulatta”: Mixed skin, attempting to pass as white.
  • “Pickaninny”: unkept hair, bright red lips and are often eating watermelon
Blackface and Vaudeville made these terms an acceptable way to address African American individuals.

Did America’s existence of segregation, racism and slavery make this an acceptable form of entertainment? Or do we still have to ask ourselves how we were even able to get to get to a mindset where we thought it was acceptable?

These images in media portrayed by extremely famous American actors romanticized the idea of keeping the black community underprivileged and underrepresented. It created a fallacy of just privilege for white Americans and enforced the myth that black Americans were lesser people because of their color; these are the representations American media was attempting to illustrate through these messages.


Coming Up….

3 May
  • Vaudeville and the American Music Industry
  • Thugs, Gangs, Drug Dealers and Film
  • The Prince of Persia…. with a British Accent
  • Tiana: The First Black Disney Princess


3 May

So far my examination of racism in mass media through out the United States has considered how racism is considered on the private sector through film, how it is examined through the public lens of viral video and how we can examine it in the most public place of all: politics.

All of these instances show us one distinct point– understanding the cultural story of races and ethnicities could have provided a much more desirable outcome for M. Night Shyamalan, Alexandra Wallace and Marilyn Davenport. Furthermore, consideration of their location could have saved them from public shaming. However, their lack of judgement and consideration for such stories consequentially presented them in the poor light of ignorance and inconsideration.

All three of these individuals failed to examine the cultural location of their actions: the internet. The internet has become a public realm for information and examination no information is private or privy to some in this sphere; it is accessible by all.

  • M. Night Shyamalan’s public interviews to a online based website were examined by millions which made the public determine that he was not sensitive to the ethnic or cultural identities of Asians or Inuits.
  • Alexandra Wallace used one of the most public video sharing websites in the world that promotes sharing video and receiving feedback to voice her opinion which resulted in extremely negative feedback for her negative words.
  • Marilyn Davenport, while believing she was under the safety net of a private network forgot that the internet doesn’t forget and sent an email that was deeply inconsiderate to people who understood that the cultural story of African Americans like President Barack Obama.

Interesting to consider is how these instances are different from one another.

While M. night Shyamalan was ridiculed for his production of Avatar: The Last Airbender, he will still be able to make films, and will still be a productive director who will earn copious amounts of money for his films. It is likely that his career will not be affected at all by this blunder. Is it because his work is considered art? Is it because he was simply creating a film based  on his vision? Or is he treated differently because he is famous? The media illustrates a sign to the public that people who are famous are invincible– therefore we are signifying that we should not consider their actions as negatively as we would had it been someone else in the public sphere.

Alexandra Wallace was forced to leave UCLA because of the widespread attention her actions received.  Posting her opinions on the internet and directly making racist remarks had ensured her ridicule by her peers. It’s possible that Alexandra Wallace will have trouble finding employment. It’s likely that she will be judged and considered based on her actions because of how public her opinions became. Society has taught it’s citizens to ostracize individuals without forgiveness.

However, Marilyn Davenport may not face the same consequences as Alexandra Wallace. While Ms. Davenport may have been public and deeply inconsiderate in her actions, she is already an accomplished individual who was able to use the mask of a “joke” to conceal her opinion and position. While some may not respect her in the way they had previously, Davenport is protected by her position in politics, her knowledge of the law and very likely a strong attorney.

We’re able to see how these instances are similar when we consider how they have come to be although it’s also important to consider how the media and how society will treat these individuals differently for their actions despite their severity.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

29 Apr

The Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender has been an international success since it’s debut in February 2005.

The human world had been broken down into four separate kingdoms, some of the inhabitants are able to rule and control the element of their kingdom: Air, Water, Fire and Earth.

However, the Firebenders became power hungry and destroyed the kingdoms taking over as much of world as they could. Only the Avatar, the person who can control all four elements has the power to stop him however he has been missing for over one hundred years and the Firebenders destruction has lead to the extinction of the Airbenders. The story follows Aang, the newly reincarnated Avatar, and his two friends Katara and Sokka on a journey to spread word that the Avatar has returned and provide the promise peace once the Fire Lord has been defeated.

The story is extremely focused on Asian and Inuit culture and themes. Element bending is based on real forms of martial arts; Waterbending to Tai Chi, Earthbending to Hung Ga Kung Fu, Firebending to Northern Shaolin and Airbending to Baguazhang.
The calligraphy style of the title and all other texts used throughout the cartoon is Eastern Asian.

水 for water is paired with 善 for benevolence and adaptability.
土 for earth is paired with 強 for strength and stability.
火 for fire is paired with 烈 for intensity and passion.
气 for air is paired with 和 for peace and harmony.

The characters partake in Asian traditions of meditation, tea therapy and music.
The Avatar partakes in a Buddhist tradition that is used to find the reincarnated Lama in the quest to find the newest reincarnated Avatar.
The characters are depicted in an animation style that the developers stated was influenced by “anime, Chinese art, hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Yoga” which eloquently shows Asian influences of race and identity.

Which leads us to question why in the feature length film directed by M. Night Shyamalan the protagonist characters were cast as white children and the antagonists were the only characters who were cast of Asian descent.

The Last Airbender CastThe Last Airbender Cast

M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of Nickelodeon’s cartoon, was highly anticipated by die hard fans. However, once the trailer had released, many fans responded with skepticism and anguish. The characters that had been cast did not live up to the expectations of the viewers and many people were wondering why the change of heart and the sacrifice of racial minorities for characters in an opportunity that could excel the careers of many underrepresented Asian individuals.

Wired author, Corrina Lawson, states that even her child was a bit taken back by the casting situation. Corrina provides extremely eloquent and historically accurate reasons why the casting should have been done in a more accurate manner:

“The Fire Nation mentioned in the theme song owes a large debt to imperialistic Japan. The characters may look rather pale, but their features certainly have a Japanese quality, one that is completely deliberate.

In many episodes, exiled Prince Zuko is shown to possess not only a uniquely unhappy family, but to have dwelled in a palace shown through flashbacks of his childhood that shares many features with a traditional Japanese royal residence. The style of dress, ponds, and shape of the buildings are very, very similar to the pagodas, elaborate etiquette systems, and traditional gardens that the Japanese palaces had.

Moreover, the attitude of the royal family parallels the expansionist dreams of pre-WWII Japan.  Zuko’s sister, favored Princess Azula, is a prodigy at war strategy, diplomatic negotiations and military ventures. Azula, along with the first season’s General Zhao, are very much Japanese traditionalists and imperialists.

The Earth Kingdom poses the most significant- if not an equal- threat to the Fire Nation. It is portrayed as a more agricultural and divided country, very similar to that of China’s Golden Age- and their characters certainly resemble the Chinese.

The Water Tribes are just what their name implies- a loosely organized collection of free people that live very much like the Innuit and dwell at the North and South poles of the world.

The Air nomads are essentially wiped out- with the exception of Aang, the sole survivor- and what little we know of their lifestyle leads us to believe that they resembled the North American Indians of the Great Plains.

The reason I explain this is so one understands that it isn’t merely looks that make the white casting for Avatar wrong. The societies portrayed in the show are actually very specific. How someone looks should arguably not be that important in how they play a role, but the extremely specific ethnic portrayals in Avatar make this a real problem.”

M. Night Shyamalan’s response to everything? It went pretty much like “everyone sees themselves as Katara, so she can be any race.”

I suppose my argument here is why would a company sacrifice the ethnic diversity of a high budget film based on a very popular and well renowned cartoon unless they were attempting to make a point or create a relationship.

More significant than the omission of a multicultural cast was to see that the only character who was cast from the racial minority was that of Prince Zuko: the enemy of the trio. This poses questions of media signs and signals that the developer was attempting to push onto the young audience of this film. Were they attempting to create a relationship with the viewers by making Aang, Katara and Sokka white, a similar demographic to most of the audience? Were they attempting to play on the cultural stories of the black / white binary in order to illustrate that Prince Zuko’s character wasn’t white therefore he was “the bad guy”?

Unfortunately, this movie was so unsuccessful that we may never get to see the subsequent books in the series and witness the conclusion; however, it may open a door for a writer or director who wants to do the film the right way.

Marilyn Davenport: Politically Incorrect Politician

18 Apr

Since President Barack Obama had begun his election campaign rumors had begun to swirl that he wasn’t an American citizen.

Conspiracy theorists enjoyed coming up with ideas from the plausible (citizenship laws for immigrants like his father) to the ridiculous (“he just doesn’t LOOK American“) in order to sway the ignorant and easy to convince Americans who are unable to distinguish a credible source from an individual with an agenda (i.e. someone who may want Obama’s popularity to decline).

In either sense, President Barack Obama IS an American citizen. His birth certificate shows he was born in Hawaii.

Obama's Birth Certificate

However, despite evidence of his birth certificate– rumors of poor taste continue to spread amongst citizens and politicians alike. Interestingly, one of the biggest arguments was that the State of Hawaii was suppressing evidence by only releasing the short form of the document rather than the original long form. They aren’t. Seriously, they even found the birth announcement from the local newspaper.

It was assumed that this issue had finally been put to rest– however, with election season coming up around the corner again, the remarks have started up again, resulting in controversy, anger and accusation.

Last week, Marilyn Davenport, an elected member of the party central committee sent a derogatory and racist e-mail to other members of the committee with this image attached with the following description:

"Now you know why - No birth certificate!"

Some members of the GOP have been absolutely horrified by her actions asking her to resign and petitioning for her to be ousted for her racist remarks.

GOP Chairman Scott Baugh believes the issue should be forwarded to the GOP Ethics Review Committee.

Former California Republican Party Chairman Michael Schroeder believes if she doesn’t resign, she should be forced to leave. “My jaw dropped.”

Ms. Davenport however does not feel that she is in the wrong and rather than apologizing, she originally asked the “coward” who leaked the information to the  press to come forward.

“I’m sorry if my email offended anyone, I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth,” she wrote. “In no way did I even consider the fact he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race. We all know a double standard applies regarding this president. I received plenty of emails about George Bush that I didn’t particularly like, yet there was no ‘cry’ in the media about them.”

It’s shocking to read that Marilyn Davenport had never considered that President Barack Obama was half black when she wrote that e-mail asserting her colorblindness.

Davenport failed to realize how President Barack Obama has been affected by his race and how remarks relating him to a monkey could be considered in the utmost sense of racism. The common racist relation of African Americans to monkeys, apes or other primates makes the assumption that African Americans are less evolved as humans in Darwin’s theory therefore White Americans or Caucasians were superior as they were the fully evolved species.

Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Despite being a “bad joke” we have to consciously reconsider what we assume is a credible source of information. We know that politicians will always have an agenda for their words and their actions but should we accept a smear campaign as an agenda or should we reevaluate what we allow people to say in a political manner?

Ms. Marilyn Davenport represents the 72nd Assembly District in Orange County on the Central Committee; representing Brea, Fullerton, Placentia in campaigning, fundraising and debating policy for the Republican Party.

Alexandra Wallace

12 Apr

Please watch this video:

The internet has created a space where people can hide behind a camera and a false identity in order to make statements that they may not feel as though they could say in public space without retaliation or unpleasant remarks. This shield of anonymousness proved to be nonexistent for Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student.

In the wake of the 8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit and crushed Japan on March 11, 2011 many people were in fear for their families, their lives, their history and their government. For them, it may have echoed the fear and terror what we felt on September 11, 2001.

It was only natural that individuals felt the urge to communicate with one another and ensure their safety and the safety of their families: 27,800 people have been pronounced dead or missing since the Tohoku Tsunami. It’s safe to say that there were many people who were worried for these missing individuals.

Fear has been known to produce high amounts of adrenaline in humans which can result in extremely emotional responses to stimuli often causing the subject of fear to act on instinct and perhaps forgetting their surroundings or current situation.

This is why the individuals who were touched by the catastrophic tsunami had chosen to answer their phones in the library– they acted on instinct as a result of fear.

“So being the polite nice American girl that my momma raised me to be, I kind of just gave him … ‘It’s the library, like we’re trying to study, thanks!’ And then it’s the same thing five minutes later. But it’s somebody else, you know? I swear they’re going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing. … Like, you seriously should go outside if you’re going to do that.”

Alexandra Wallace’s racist remarks did nothing but solidify her as an individual who has been taught to practice colorblind tactics. Colorblindness asks us to forget our cultural differences from one another and to not consider how our race, or origin or cultural background affects us personally and makes us unique and different.

The origin of the individuals who shared the space of the library uniquely shape them as individuals who are touched in wake of the tsunami.

While not directly related to the tsunami situation, I want to bring attention to the ideals of Japanese and Chinese parenting that shaped some of the unwarranted statements made by Alexandra Wallace. Ms. Wallace found it extremely unnerving that individuals would have their parents over to help make their food and do their laundry and continue to assist them, despite finally being out in college. This relationship is very closely tied to filial piety, a virtue strongly tied to Buddhism: respect for elders and ancestors. Parents take very kind and close care to their children in consideration that once their children have become successful adults, the children will then care for them in return.
This ignorance to different cultural norms and reinforcing notions is more evidence of Alexandra Wallace’ s ignorance and practiced colorblindness.

Chancellor Block of UCLA released a statement of apology for the remarks that were made:

After posting these remarks on the internet, Alexandra Wallace had become the face of racism at UCLA and was being tormented for her statement, receiving death threats to both her e-mail and phone. Her finals were rescheduled to undisclosed locations after individuals posted the location of her whereabouts on the web. Although UCLA has decided not to provide punishable consequences for her action– Ms. Wallace has since discontinued education at UCLA.

Despite the anger of many UCLA individuals– some have taken this situation and created a parody based on her actions:

The United States in the Face of Racism

29 Mar
Changing the Social Norm

Changing the Social Norm

This blog will undertake the daunting task of attempting to understand, represent and analyze the instances of racism in American history and present day contemporary media in order to illustrate it’s ongoing existence in America despite popular opinion of reform.  While I believe this blog will be informative, interesting and educational– I do not feel it will be able to entirely scope the real problem that still exists here in America; I however am confident that it will help provide perspective for those who are still ignorant to such concepts.

American history has been plagued with instances of racism that extends much further commonly known rise of slavery that was existent in the 16th to 19th century.

Race and it’s configuration into the black white binary was a socially and institutionally formed construct in order to oppress individuals who were not considered white. The Black / White binary refuses to see race farther than the definitions of white or non-white– those who were considered in the latter category of non-white (black, mixed, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern) would then suffer a loss of privilege in modern society. This was not an accident and it was done in order to control the social class and hierarchy of privilege in America.

When considering that this racism was imposed upon anyone who was not considered white, we understand that socially we overlook many individuals who have been touched by the hand of racism. One of the most common instances of unrepresented racism in America is the forced immigration and assimilation of Chicano and Chicana individuals in America.
For further reading on the Chicano and Chicana Movement and the Mexican-American War– please continue here.

While we tend to feel confident that America has changed and developed a new standard of multiculturalism we are sadly extremely wrong. While we may be on the cusp of such acceptance and adherence to national differences– we certainly have not overcome racism in America just yet.

American’s often tend to state that they “don’t pay attention to race” and that it’s best to “practice colorblindness” in order to avoid racism without knowing that those are actually the most enforcing notions of racism that is still experienced today.

Using colorblindness as away to address those who are Mexican, Japanese, Black, Indian or any other race simply ignores the hardships they have endured historically and personally because of their nationality and the experiences they have had because of it. Being “colorblind” to those issues reaffirms your privilege as an American, and perhaps a white American, to not have to worry about those social constructs that have hindered them before. Awareness to race, culture and nationality promotes understanding, acceptance and tolerance of one another.


I plan to investigate American History, pop culture, social imagery and the media in order to support my argument that racism is still existent in America today and perhaps uncover instances of American racism that were unknown to many.


Support multiculturalism.

Represent your culture and your national origin.

Respect everyone.


Amber Murray

March 30, 2011