Women in Minstrelsy?

Minstrelsy is often correctly thought of as performance done by and for the white man. In whatever form it took, it was undoubtedly offensive and purposeful in its sedimentation of black subversion. What I find interesting about women’s participation in minstrelsy come the late 19th century is not that it changed the purpose of minstrelsy, and certainly not that it was any less offensive. However, it does bring into question the intersection of race and gender in America.

Maty Barnard Horne [1845-1931] was one of the first female authors of minstrelsy scripts. She wrote various musicals, school productions, adapted others’ performances for the stage and of course, minstrel shows. Interestingly, she dealt with the social and political status of women during this time in America where voting rights for black men and white women were similar.

Here is one of her first shows, entitled Plantation Bitters. The text is highly racist yet also is one of the first shows in which women were cast on stage. This does not lend any credence to the tradition of minstrel shows, but rather shows a greater trend of white women weaponizing their status to further black oppression.

We see the same trend today, as some of you might remember the woman in central park, NYC during 2020 that tried to call the police on a black man for telling her to leash her dog. It has been a trend throughout history that I do not think the presence of women in minstrelsy does anything to combat.

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