For most of the last 50 years blackface minstrelsy has been a taboo topic. The very image of men in burnt cork blackface has been a shocking symbol of national shame ever since Brown v. Board of Education started the process of dismantling the segregation laws that had been nicknamed after America's first homegrown international pop music sensation, a blackface, character-based song-and-dance routine by Thomas "Daddy" Rice called "jump Jim Crow."
But for nearly 150 years blackface minstrelsy was among the most popular and widespread entertainments in America. In the 1840s it was seen at home and abroad as the first great indigenous expression of American culture and identity. And though the process of "blacking up" has disappeared, minstrel performance lives on in American comedy--Chris Rock's 2003 movie, Head of State, in which Rock becomes the first black President and gets a crowd of uptight white swells to dance and chant, could have been written for one of Rice's stage shows. And of course minstrelsy lives on in American music, not only in the faux Ebonics of singers like Anthony Kiedis, but in the very sound and repertoire of country music.