Eric Lott

Blackface from Time to Time 


Ethnic drag in the form of blackface seems to exist in some kind of eternal present: instances of its performance go back centuries, come into commercial popularity in the US in the 1830s, dominate popular entertainment on stage all across the 19th century, then migrate to Hollywood for much of the 20th century.  The official censuring of blackface in the 1960s coincided with its "vernacular" reappearance in Halloween costumes and fraternity parties and college yearbooks to this day, where from time to time blackface makes its inevitable return.  I will talk about the time-to-time temporality of blackface's ongoing present, some key recent examples in which the questions of drag and gender are front and center, and why American culture seems to require its racial, sexual, and gendered eternal returns.  




Eric Lott teaches American Studies at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  He is the author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (Oxford UP, 1993), The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual (Basic Books, 2006), and Black Mirror: The Cultural Contradictions of American Racism (Harvard UP, 2017).