Dissertation – Chapter 6 – Conclusion: Minstrel Passing into American Citizenship (5 of 5)

Post it Notes like I used copiously while writing my dissertation. Image by Pexels on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/post-it-notes-sticky-notes-note-1284667/
Post it Notes like I used copiously while writing my dissertation. Image by Pexels on Pixabay at https://pixabay.com/en/post-it-notes-sticky-notes-note-1284667/

© Copyright by
Roshaunda D. Cade

In all four texts, feminism and racial deception form an alliance to demonstrate that women can use and usurp patriarchy and white supremacy to define their own spheres and to create their own lives and futures.  This partnership allows them to enact feminist narratives that become truth and believable.  Feminism also acknowledges the power of mothering and othermothering.  This power works in the novels through these women who create and fashion themselves.  They either are emboldened by motherhood, searching for a lost mother, attempting to control their own fertility, or any combination of the aforementioned.  The role of mothers cannot be separated from the theories of feminism.  And if mother/motherhood impels these slave women to enact racial deceptions, then those deceptions trace back to feminism, even if in its most nascent forms.

Mothering proves a catalyst that impels women to press through a crisis via minstrel passing.  Whether the mothering comes in the form of a reaction to the loss of their own mothers, their own mothering situation, or the attempt to control when and how they become mothers, mothering proves forceful in the lives of women.  It “provides an introductory experience of having real power in the world” (Ellison 106).  And for black woman, motherhood becomes a site to “express and learn the power of self-definition, the importance of valuing and respecting ourselves, the necessity of self-reliance and independence, and a belief in Black women’s empowerment” (Collins 176).  For these slave women, defending and defining their motherhood calls for the radical feminist measure of minstrel passing.

Minstrel passing comes into play when feminist narratives become necessary, which according to Eloise A. Buker occurs during times of intense misogyny and racism (215).  The U.S. in the 1850s stood at an intersection of racism and misogyny.  The synergy of the Women’s Rights Movement, Fugitive Slave Law, and blackface minstrelsy created a context that afforded and demanded a way for women to grasp at the ideals of American liberty and privilege via race changes.  It offered a way for women to create American individualism.  Kathleen Pfeiffer defines American individualism as “the mythology that animates American notions of autonomy, self-determination, and free choice,” and argues that passing and American individualism are interchangeable concepts (4).   I push her argument to include minstrelsy as part of the American individualism myth.  Minstrelsy epitomizes white supremacy and male dominance by only allowing white men full participation in these performances that highlighted and reinforced who did and did not belong to the community of citizens.  These minstrel acts rely on the obfuscation of racial designations; so while they promote citizenship for some and reject it for other, they also create a unique space for racial indeterminacy.  The Fugitive Slave Law further bolsters notions of inclusion or exclusion in U.S. citizenry by demanding that citizens capture slaves.  It too opens a portal for people of indeterminate race to portray themselves as constitutional citizens even though they may be legal slaves.  A lack of participation in American citizenship spurs the Women’s Rights Movement and causes white women to reject the “civil death” of marriage and seek ways to define their own spheres (Isenberg 107).   The idea of creating one’s own version of female American citizenship, and thus attaining the benefits of that citizenship, via race and gender transgressions rests at the crossroads of blackface minstrelsy, the Fugitive Slave Law, and the Women’s Rights Movement

That era created and opened a pathway for authors and other artists to define and access American privilege.  A crisis, whether national or personal, fueled by white supremacy and racism or by patriarchy and misogyny, turns women to minstrel passing in order to enact new narratives for themselves.   A national crisis, or rather convergence of crises, helped Harriet Beecher Stowe open the door of minstrel passing.  Once opened, that pathway grew into American myth status and remains open, indefinitely it would seem, for others to make use of it in order to move closer to the privileges of the American mainstream. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s