Letters to the Museum

Modern Minstrel Show

Dear Dr. Pilgrim:

I saw this video recently, and thought I ought to forward it to you. Larry Veal has apparently resurrected the "Sambo" character as the Reverend Charles. I find it simultaneously horrifying and funny. I can't figure out if this is meant as satire, or if he's just perpetuating the negative stereotype gratuitously.

There are several videos portraying this character, and I watched most of them, paying close attention to body language, mannerisms, etc. Some things that really stood out were the shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, the blinking, and the wide-eyed look ... these are all fear responses ... intense anxiety. While presented by minstrel shows (and Mr. Veal) as funny, the Sambo character underscores how much fear and terror shaped how African-Americans had to deal with the dominant culture, in order to survive.

I am tempted to be offended by the videos, yet at the same time, they remind me of things past that would otherwise be forgotten. I don't want to forget "Sambo", or more importantly, what forced him to act as the servile, deferential person he appeared to be.

What do you think, Dr. Pilgrim?

Sincerely,

John Sabin

-- May 6, 2010


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