No White Guilt for Blackface

6 months ago

For the last several years we’ve had to listen to left wing hypocrisy, which at this point is a bit redundant, about how evil cultural appropriation is and that if you are white you can’t dress like this on Halloween:

Because of the overused phrase “my culture is not a costume” can be used exclusively against white people because, didn’t you know, they are the only people on planet earth that don’t have a culture. The biggest no-no of all the racist costumes is the white sin of blackface:

Even though this is totally fine:

Blackface is hands down the most offensive costume of all and Europeans should all feel bad because it is a reminder of their history of racism…. …except it’s not.

What you probably don’t know is that blackface was popularized by Al Jolson and was not at all some big part of white culture but a part of Jewish culture, and not just because Al Jolson was Jewish, which he was, or that the makers of this film were Jewish, and they were, but because this film, The Jazz Singer, the movie that popularized blackface more than anything before its release or since is literally a film about Jewish culture and identity. I know that might sound crazy to people who have never seen this film, but as you are about to see, I’m not exaggerating even a tiny bit.

The Jazz singer was released in 1927. The film is so old that more than half of the movie is in the style of a silent film and only a few portions of it actually have audio other than music. Having a film with audio was a brand new technology in 1927. In fact it would be the popularity of this film with it’s new addition of audible words from the actors that would usher in the new wave of talking pictures, or “talkies,” a style of movie that resembles the movies that we have today.

The film was based on a play written by Jewish playwright Samson Raphaelson and was produced by Warner Brothers which was owned and operated by the, well, the Warner brothers who were Jewish immigrants that had changed their names from Wonsal before founding the studio just a few years prior in 1923. The Jazz singer directed by Alan Crosland who, like many directors even those directing films today, came from a wealthy Jewish family in New York.

But it’s not just that nearly everyone involved in the production of “The Jazz Singer” was Jewish, after all, you could say that about most movies produced in Hollywood. The reason I bring up it’s connection with Jewish culture is “The Jazz Singer” is literally a movie about Al Jolson growing up in an abusive Jewish family and how he breaks from orthodox tradition to do, well, this:

The film opens up with this board:

Which right off the bat defines Al Jolson’s father as a chanter of hymns in a synagogue and holding onto the traditions of the Jewish race. Like I said, I wasn’t exaggerating or trying to read into something that isn’t a core part of the film. Al Jolson’s Jewish Identity and ethnicity is the core of this film and a theme that never recedes from the spotlight. That it is now taught that this is something that was the product of American Anglo-Saxons and the other white Europeans that are blamed today for all things racist when the origin exists right here in black and white is nothing short of infuriating.

The whole first part of the film deals with Jolson’s rabbi father working at the synagogue and chanting Jewish hymns. There is no way to miss this.

When he finds out his son, Al Jolson, doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps, he beats him severely with his belt as his mother cries in the next room. Shortly thereafter, Jolson runs away and grows up to be a singer in the theater.

It’s not long after that we see him watching a man singing Jewish songs at a Jewish theater and he is reminded again of his rabbi father. He gets a gig on Broadway and after getting back into New York he goes and sees his family. He gives his father a prayer shawl but he’s still mad at his son and sends him away.

Jolson gets ready for his big Broadway debut, it’s dress rehearsal but he’s haunted by thoughts of his father because it’s Yom Kippur and his father is sick with guilt. After putting on the blackface makeup he tells his girlfriend:

There’s something after all, in my heart, maybe it’s the call of the ages the cry of my race.

By that, I don’t think he means the black race that he is impersonating with his blackface makeup. We see this clearly when he has a vision of his father in the synagogue. So here we see clear evidence that the filmmakers view themselves as racially separate from whites.

His mother and family friend come to see him, and after making a racist joke about his blackface, Al Jolson goes out and sings the song that would make blackface mainstream in the most famous and legitimate act of cultural appropriation.

Al Jolson

After rehearsal he goes home and finds his father sick in bed, his mother begs him to go sing in the synagogue for his father’s sake and he is forced to choose between this and his big opening night on Broadway. After some agonizing over if it’s more important to follow his career and break his mother’s heart or sing for his father, he decides to miss the performance and sing the Jewish hymns for his father.

Thankfully, the show producer hears his hymns and doesn’t fire him and the show goes on. He is free to wear his blackface and pretend to be a black man on Broadway and that, ladies and gentleman, is the story you were never told about blackface.

So now you know the real story behind blackface.

Some people might point out that “minstrel shows” pre-date “The Jazz Singer” and in attempt to blame-shift or out of ignorance try to say that because Al Jolson wasn’t the first person in history to put black makeup on his face that he can’t possibly be to blame for being the iconic symbol of blackface. Having a few small regional plays in the backwoods of 19th century America is worlds apart from producing a big budget film (one of the first ever to feature audio) distributing it around the world to huge audiences, making additional films and producing several records for wide release. Al Jolson wasn’t the first person to put black makeup on his face, but he most certainly popularized it with this film and took it mainstream.

“The Jazz Singer” was produced by people that describe themselves in the film (more than once) as being racially separate from whites. When people think blackface, they think Al Jolson, but for some reason they also think “white people.” The connection that blackface has to Jewish culture is conveniently never mentioned.

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