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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, March 12, 2006

About that word fancy


Minstrels


This came in via e-mail


I've been reading more on the historical use of the word 'fancy'' and found an interesting note on the Slavery in America educational website (based on the PBS series). Here it is...

Zip Dandies: Almost every minstrel show had a black-faced performer dressed in exaggeratedly elegant clothes who carried on with foppish manners. Sometimes called Zip Coon or Jim Dandy, the Zip Dandy performers were usually associated with a stereotypical image of the urban black person. He was dressed in ties and tails with a top hat but had especially deformed physical features such as "beef-steak lips." A favorite scene was "De Colored Fancy Ball" which presented "Dandy Broadway Swells" in skintight "trousaloon," a black or red long-tailed coat with padded shoulders, a fancy ruffled shirt front and collar, white gloves, a jeweled cane, and a long watch chain of gold. The intention was to show how ridiculous blacks could be when they tried to ape the manners of white gentlemen. They were completely self-centered and thought only of courting fancy ladies, wearing fancy clothes, dancing the latest new ballroom jig, and strutting their bodies in ludicrous parodies of what whites believed to be the character of northern, urban blacks in contrast to the Sambo and Coon characters identified with southern, rural blacks.

More from Mistrelsy and the Construction of Race in America, from the Brown University Library:


Minstrelsy explained that if any black Americans decided to try to "become white" through the adoption of white values, dress, or manners, he was destined to fail as his natural inferiority would never allow him to rise from his lower place in the racial hierarchy. In the song "De Color’d Fancy Ball" the minstrel performer sings, dresses, and prances in an attempt to emulate white culture. He dances the waltz and even tries to speak some French, demonstrating his "sophistication." Although this song represented minstrelsy’s attack on northern black dandies, it also represented the more fundamental white criticism of black attempts to transcend their blackness. Caught up in the moment of dance and merriment, the minstrel character nonsensically exclaims:

Chas-sez croi—sez prom-ber—nade Oh de joys ob dan-------cing!
Chas-sez croi—sez prom-ber—nade Oh de joys ob dan-------cing!
Chas-sez croi—sez prom-ber—nade Oh de joys ob dan-------cing!

This description confirms Toll’s explanation that in every way minstrels emphasized, blacks fell far short of white standards. No matter how hard they tried, minstrelsy guaranteed its audience that black Americans would never be able to penetrate into the realm of whiteness—they would never be able to receive full citizenship within the true American body politic.

More from Eric Lott, University of Virgian professer of American Studies:


I think the stereotypes that emerge from the 19th century minstrel show circulate to the present day and are crucial in defining white people's sense of who black people are, I'm sad to say. Whether it's in the perceptions of black people who drive fancy cars -- Miles Davis complained about being pulled over every five minutes for driving a Maserati -- or whether it's in the hardly updated version of Jim Crow and something like the welfare mother. I think there are still the lenses white people put on when they look at black Americans, and it's sad but it's kind of desperately indicative of the way in which this country still hasn't surmounted the kinds of feelings that gave rise to minstrelsy in the first place.

I thought this was history but I was wrong.

.......

Here's the websites if the hyperlinks don't work...my email is acting funny (probably the operator).

http://dl.lib.brown.edu/sheetmusic/afam/minstrelsy.html

http://www.slaveryinamerica.org/scripts/sia/glossary.cgi?term=z&letter=yes

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/foster/sfeature/sf_minstrelsy_11.html

posted by Steve @ 12:07:00 AM

12:07:00 AM

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