The History of White Investment in Black Suffering

By Stacie Mccormick | Black Perspectives

Possessing the Black body is as popular now as it has ever been. The recent college yearbook controversies depicting students in blackface often while posed along some symbol of racial terror (a noose, someone dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb, or the Confederate flag) has brought new attention to the long and ongoing tradition of blackface performance for many white Americans.

In theorizing the affective dimensions of blackface in the minstrel era, Eric Lott in Love and Theft offers valuable insight into why this kind of performance is so pleasurable and satisfying for many white Americans. “Minstrel nostalgia,” he avers, “intimated by emotional antidote all the forces in American life that seemed to be pulling the country apart.” This particular form of nostalgia was also driven by a “widespread preoccupation with traumatic parting, distance, temporal and geographical breaks” occasioned by westward expansion as well as anxieties about the deracinating experience of modern life.

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