The Black Woman and the Blackfaced Man: American History Is Fucked Up

The Rude Pundit was perusing some old files and photos recently. The owner of the stuff was deceased, and it belonged to her father, who was a good union man, a member of the Electrical Device Workers Union during the 1930s and 40s.

The EDWU was a small union, but it was active in the Northeast. It had a newsletter and it held all kinds of events to increase membership and to keep the members engaged. Some of those were not just rabble-rousing meeting or protests. No, some were evening shows where members would sing, dance, and entertain the rest of the local, like their own vaudeville. This is from one of those variety show evenings, perhaps even for Christmas:

If you can't see, down on the bottom row are three white people in blackface. Indeed, one of the union's activities was the minstrel show that was put on for members each year. That's pretty fucked, right? Sadly, it's not totally unexpected for the times. But wait. Because if you look again, in the lower left side, you can see this:

The circles help, no? There sits the one real African American in the whole group. And she is about three feet from someone who is pretending to be a black man, with exaggerated color and features. You can bet that when he performed, he shucked and jived to the delight of everyone there. That woman is smiling because you know that she was just thrilled that she had a decent union job and, well, if the price was pretending that white people acting foolish was a-ok, it's a pretty cheap one back in the first half of the 20th century in the United States.

This isn't to say, "Look how far we've come." And it isn't to say, "Look how far we haven't come." It's a reminder that the glorified past to which so many Republicans hearken wasn't that glorious. It's a reminder that the Greatest Generation might have fought the Nazis, but they existed in a fucked-up nation otherwise. Finally, it's a reminder that the nation is built on the ongoing indignities of the underclasses in this country, whether it's this woman grinning while the black clown sits nearby or the immigrants who have to hear unending attacks on their legitimacy and character from presumptive "leaders."

And if those being attacked do anything but smile, they are subject to the hatred of the allegedly open-minded whites.