The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
"The Pinochle Fiends
"Made to Order."
"A Long Story Boiled Down."
Tarred and Feathered
"Fashions of the Congo."
"You're a Bird."
"Throwing Light on a Dark Subject."
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Exploiting Race and Ethnicity

Minstrel Shows and Blackface

Rosetta and Vivian Duncan, popular singing comediennes, burlesquing Topsy and Little Eva from Uncle Tom's CabinOutcault's fickle treatment of African-Americans has roots in minstrel shows as well as illustrations that made blacks the punchline of many jokes—and a way to sell products. The influence of minstrel shows on popular culture might be summed up by the story of how Aunt Jemima came into existence, as told by M.M. Manring. According to legend, Chris Rutt, one of the inventors of the self-rising pancake flour, walked into a minstrel show in St. Joseph, Massachusetts in 1898, where he happened upon the blackface comedy of Baker and Farrell; one of the men was dressed in drag as Aunt Jemima, and Rutt found his inspiration for advertising his product.1 Whites could exploit black stereotypes to make money, either in entertainment or in advertising, but they felt comfortable with blacks portrayed through "only a few stereotyped roles: as contented subordinates on the plantation, as ignorant low-comedy fools, and as ludicrous, pretentious incompetents."2 A traditional means of advertising was to sell status; buying so-and-so product will make you look like a person of higher status to others. Blackface entertainers sold status by making the audience feel superior to the entertainers. But unlike in Outcault's work, there were some African-Americans who authored their own blackface acts, creating a doubling effect in which white laughter is directed at blacks, and blacks profit from the laughter while controlling the audience.

The illustrations on this page from Life magazine demonstrate how deeply embedded racism affected the art work and the mode of comedy during the late 19th century.

"Her Royal Highness."
"The Difference."
"The Belle of Dahomey."
"Putting on Airs."

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1 Manring, M.M. Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. 61.

2 Toll, Robert C. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. London/Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. 179.