Sarah J. Adams, FWO postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University & University of Antwerp

Researchers generally situate the origins of Dutch-Belgian blackface as a way to ridicule Afro-diasporic people in the second half of the nineteenth century, when Anglo-American minstrel troupes arrived in the Low Countries. Wearing black make-up had been a common theatrical practice for hundreds of years, scholarship asserts, but it was not used to stereotype nonwhite people until the mid-nineteenth century. “Blackface Burlesques” will show that neither Dutch-Belgian popular performance culture nor the history of racism waited for these minstrels to enter the stage. The main goal of this project is to trace the modes, scenarios, tropes, and techniques used to design “blackness” on the comic stage and explore the different functions of these modes of representation. I hold that this corpus of racialized burlesques, created and staged in a period marked by the profound rigidification of racial binaries, prefigured mid-nineteenth-century forms of amusements in both their arrangements and politics. By unearthing, exploring, and deconstructing a hitherto unstudied corpus of blackface entertainment that underpins modern racism and its stereotypes, this project will contribute not only to debates on European varieties and roots of Anglo-American minstrelsy, but also to discussions of imperial imagination, Black Pete, and decolonization in Belgium and the Netherlands today.

This projected is funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders

Blackface at De Democriet Carnival of 1801