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�Blacking Up�: English Folk Traditions and Changing Perceptions about Black People in England

Bater, Patricia (2013) �Blacking Up�: English Folk Traditions and Changing Perceptions about Black People in England. MPhil thesis, University of Sheffield.

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This thesis investigates the custom of white people blacking their faces and its continuation at a time when society is increasingly aware of accusations of racism. To provide a context, an overview of the long history of black people in England is offered, and issues about black stereotypes, including how �blackness� has been perceived and represented, are considered. The historical use of blackface in England in various situations, including entertainment, social disorder, and tradition, is described in some detail. It is found that nowadays the practice has largely been rejected, but continues in folk activities, notably in some dance styles and in the performance of traditional (folk) drama. Research conducted through participant observation, interview, case study, and examination of web-based resources, drawing on my long familiarity with the folk world, found that participants overwhelmingly believe that blackface is a part of the tradition they are following and is connected to its past use as a disguise. However, although all are aware of the sensitivity of the subject, some performers are fiercely defensive of blackface, while others now question its application and amend their �disguise� in different ways. Further factors underlying the use, and usefulness, of blacking up are suggested, including tradition, identity, community, and mystery. Reasons why the practice continues despite significant opposition are discussed. It is concluded that there is a long history of blacking up in England and that current blackface practice is not intentionally associated with Victorian �nigger minstrels�; however, minstrelsy was so popular that its influence cannot be discounted. It is also suggested that the folk process has always absorbed and reflected influences from popular culture, and continues to do so; and that in an area of strong opinion, no definitive answers can be given that will satisfy everyone.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Mrs Patricia Bater
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2013 11:09
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:54
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/4181

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