The Modern Day Minstrel Show
A friend posted this video on her Facebook timeline, remarking “Now that’s real talent!” Without a doubt, both Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. were world class entertainers. However I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of offense; in that seeing two grown Black men tap dancing is just a little too reminiscent of a minstrel show to me.
I began to wonder if I was being too sensitive perhaps. Well I found the following quote in this article:
In the 1930s, tap dancers like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson charmed audiences in vaudeville theaters and at the movies. But many dancers who wanted to perform in front of white audiences, live or in the movies, had to play to racial stereotypes, and many of the recorded performances that survive from that era reflect that. By the 1960s, many black Americans considered tap offensive.
(Yet another sign that I was born in the wrong era 🙂 )
Many moons ago, I used to take dance lessons in ballet, jazz, gymnastics and tap. I definitely appreciate the skill involved in tap dancing as well as its appeal (few things are cooler to little girls than a new pair of tap shoes). But tap dancing’s roots go back to the Black American minstrel show of the 19th century. Of course today, no one thinks of that when they sign their little girls (& boys…maybe) up for dance class in a multi-racial environment. And rightfully so. There is nothing wrong with reinventing something….taking something old and making it into an entirely different art form. But people still have their own prerogative in regards to how they choose to view the art form….”new & improved” or not.
Modern day Black American culture struggles with this everywhere; and as a Black American, it is truly exhausting having to really think and form opinions about where you stand in regards to all of it. The word “nigger”; wearing long, straight weaves and light colored contacts, the right to speak in Ebonics, etc., etc. Not to mention the fine line of Black people poking fun at ourselves and “our ways”….and other, non-Blacks doing it, but then going “too far”.
In the end, I want people to be recognized for being talented…no matter what their race may be. That would be ideal. But we all know that’s not the reality. Instead your race is bundled up with what you can do and presented as an intertwined package. People may no longer do a double take at seeing a White rapper, but they will at seeing a young, dark-skinned Black child playing the violin. So while I feel a bit guilty at getting rustled at seeing grown Black men tap dancing; in the same vain, I wonder why there is not a White counterpart to Savion Glover?