Mock blacks and racial mockery
The ‘nigger’ minstrel and British imperialism
in Acts of supremacy
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Nigger' minstrelsy developed in Britain in the years after the abolition of slavery in British territories, and during the period of expansion and consolidation of Britain's colonial and imperial power. Minstrelsy's depictions of black characteristics undoubtedly became more brutally racist as the century wore on, reaching their most malicious pitch during the heyday of 'high' imperialism. Imperialism was 'an extension of nationalism' and of racial superiority. In imperialist discourse, social identity is focused through national identity, though always from a particular perspective, which is determined by relations of power. Within English cultural tradition in particular, Jim Crow and Zip Coon, the two classic black stereotypes of early minstrelsy, speak to the enduring division, in imagery and association, between town and country. The iconography of the blackface mask facilitated the playing out of tensions and conflicts in a social and institutional order based on inequality and discipline.

Acts of supremacy

The British Empire and the stage, 1790–1930


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