“Through a career that has included crotch-grabbing, nudity, BDSM, Marilyn Monroe fetishizing, and a 1992 book devoted to sex, Madonna has been viewed as a feminist provocateur, pushing the boundaries of acceptable femininity. But Beyoncé’s use of her body is criticized as thoughtless and without value beyond male titillation, providing a modern example of the age-old racist juxtaposition of animalistic black sexuality vs. controlled, intentional, and civilized white sexuality.”—All Hail the Queen? (http://bitchmagazine.org/article/all-hail-the-queen-beyonce-feminism#.UZvUyP56MrU.facebook)
The Racist Origins of Modern Clown Makeup (or, just one more reason to hate clowns)
This post was asking about a potential link between the afro-style wigs and big, painted lips of the modern clown and racist caricatures, so I decided to do what any good theatre history student would do - I did some research.
SPOILER ALERT: YUP, IT’S RACIST AS FUCK
From Janet M. Davis, The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big Top:
Some circus programs contained portraits of clowns in literal blackface, with huge red mouths and bulging eyes, strumming energetically on a banjo, but often the auguste clown’s blackface was metaphorical. He created his racial identity through the act of ‘‘whitening up’’ with thick pancake.
His greasy whiteness and exaggerated bodily zones—huge red mouth, lolling, paint-encircled eyes, big fake nose, ears, and feet—made his look strikingly similar to blackface. Showmen played upon this visual connection by arguing that African American men literally were clowns because of their supposed aﬃnity for clowning and the circus. The Ringling Bros.’ route book from 1895 and 1896 contained a section, ‘‘The Plantation Darkey at the Circus,’’ which imagined—in almost orgasmic language—black men as minstrel characters.
Proprietors further conﬂated the African American man and the clown by arguing that both were completely controlled by their emotions, not reason.
Superlative examples of white manhood—the big cat tamer, the wire walker, and so forth—demonstrated little emotion during life-threatening acts. The clown, by contrast, howled in mock fear when he saw a mouse, or shrieked in pain at a mosquito bite. Showmen characterized male African American spectators in a similar vein as giddy and superstitious.
Actual big-top acts made this rhetorical relationship between the clown and the African American complete. In 1888 Eph Thompson trained the elephant John L. Sullivan at the Adam Forepaugh circus. Wearing a boxing glove at the end of his trunk, the elephant sparred with Thompson in the ring and frequently ‘‘punched’’ him so hard that Thompson went ﬂying over the ring bank.
Unlike the white trainer who dominated powerful animals, Thompson played a clownish coward—constantly vanquished by the boxing pachyderm—and consequently remained unthreatening to Euroamerican audiences. Yet Thompson still had a diﬃcult time ﬁnding employment with American shows. As a result, he moved to Europe where his career ﬂourished.
In line with the tenets of nineteenth-century romantic racialism, show-men’s portrayals of black men and clowns reﬂected contemporary representations of white women: late-nineteenth-century scientists argued that ‘‘excessive’’ emotionalism deﬁned women, racial ‘‘savages,’’ and children of all races. The German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel and the Americans Edward Drinker Cope and G. Stanley Hall were all proponents of recapitulation theory, positing that every organism repeats the life history of its ‘‘race’’ within its own lifetime, evolving through the less developed forms of its ancestors on its path to maturity. They contended that Euroamerican women and ‘‘primitives’’ remained mentally and emotionally ﬁxed in lower ancestral stages of evolution. Accordingly, only white boys were physiologically and mentally capable of reaching the highest stages of racial and gender development as fully evolved men. This line of thought used pseudoempirical phrenological evidence to claim that African American men were perpetually emotional and juvenile, just like the clown.
The painted clown acted out childish behaviors and infantile pleasures. He reveled in dirt, cried freely, openly adored the serious ‘‘adult’’ acts, and played physical pranks on everybody, from ringmaster to the audience. If playing a hobo (popularized most fully by Emmett Kelly’s ‘‘Willie’’ tramp character during the Depression, when at times nearly one-quarter of the American workforce was unemployed), the auguste clown’s persona was deﬁned by dirt. Laughing loudly at the clown’s antics perhaps transported audiences back to the unrestrained pleasures of their own collective infancy and childhood.
More than a ‘‘low Other’’ who simply represented a tantalizing version of what they were not, the unfettered clown symbolized what clock-bound, alienated adult Euroamerican men perhaps felt they had lost.
Even the red noses have their origins in racist stereotypes.
From Mikita Brottman, Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor:
While the Native American plains tribes had their own various manifestations of the Trickster figure, the main clown type of non-Native Americans was not the August, as it was in Europe, but the character clown… After the [Civil War] ended, however, one particular style of character clown came into prominence: the Hobo.
Eric Lott describes how the Hobo figure was originally based on the blackface minstrel clowns (hence the exaggerated white mouths) who portrayed the figures of African Americans made homeless by the ravages of the Civil War.
Lott explains that the Hobo character clown is a distinctly American invention, with his tattered hat, huge white mouth, three days’ growth of beard, torn clothes, and cartoon alcoholic’s big red nose. […] It seems ironic that such mawkishly appealing personalities had their roots in the miseries of poverty and oppression and the disfigurements of alcoholism and venereal disease.
“The problem with Seth MacFarlane’s humor, as always, is that he’s almost always punching down instead of punching up. He’s picking on people who have always been picked upon, and he thinks he’s hilarious for doing so. What’s more, he’s making a lot of money from other people who enjoy that sort of thing. But that doesn’t make him funny. It makes him one of those fratboy douchebags who seem to be everywhere in life, even into middle age, making uncomfortably insulting wisecracks that always seem to end with the protest that “I’m just joking.” The result? The two white guys are the straight men in this bit. Everybody else—foreign, old, female—is ripe for the ribbing.”—Joel Mathis, “Seth MacFarlane’s Racist, Sexist New Show, Dads”
things “body positivity” movements should address besides weight/fat:
- features associated with non-whiteness
- hair type
- lots of body hair / no body hair / little body hair / hair in all places / losing hair
- skin conditions
- stretch marks
- skin discolorations
- different ways that skin tans
so when white feminists show me pictures of fat able-bodied white women with super smooth skin and no discolorations/skin marks and no body hair and say “love your body!!1!” it’s like nope.
I may be fat but I’m also so many other things that are looked down upon and policed. If your body positivity doesn’t seek to dismantle white supremacy/ableism/cissexism/etc, what good is your body positivity? who is it helping?
“As an Indian person I am not looking to be equal to white males, I am looking to fucking destroy white supremacy and not be afraid for my children in the hands of white lawmakers, white law enforcement, white educators and anyone else they might encounter who have the ability to oppress them.”—
This is why I fight racism everyday. Because I know I won’t solve it in my lifetime, but maybe I can make it that much better for my kids, for my little sister, for my nephews and for my nieces.
do people not realize that comparing skin bleaching to tanning products is ridiculous as fuck?
like one of the reasons ‘tanning’ became a thing was because it was a sign of wealth, it meant you could afford to go on vacations and such, so how is that the same thing as women with dark skin being told that they’re not worth as much as their light skinned counter parts?
pale women aren’t being kept from opportunities based on their paleness… I’m pretty sure you can open any magazine and see them, they’re all over the runway, they’re all over tv and movies, like damn just look at hollywood.
Meanwhile women with dark skin not only have to deal with racism but colorism within their own communities, they’re overseen for job offers, there’s a multi million dollar industry that directly markets to them by telling them how undesirable they are, how the only way to find a husband is to lighten your skin, and how much more beautiful light skin is etc. etc. etc.
so just, no.
White Privilege is a dead theory
Too many people cite the theory of “white privilege” as a reason to endorse anti-white racism. But “white skin privilege” was a concept from 1965 based on research that spanned back to the 1920’s. In 2013, white privilege is irrelevant and has been replaced by class privilege. You may be treated poorly if you lack an education, good character, or poor management of debt. But not because you aren’t white. If White Privilege existed, there wouldn’t be non-white CEOs, non-white politicians, etc. In my lifetime, I’ve never received preferential treatment for being white, and I’ve been in plenty of situations where that could have happened. I have been treated differently than those who are not in my same class though (lesser education, lesser income, bad credit, etc), but never based on race. So for all you fuck-tards telling me I need to better educate myself; fuck you, because YOU are the hypocritical asshole who needs to be educated.