It’s important to remember that minstrel music was written for entertainment and propaganda purposes. The songs were written to create the illusion that Enslaved people were happy with their circumstance.
And my my… did it work!
Things to notes:
- enslaved people were not allowed to read and write in their native tongue or in the English of the colonizers. They would pick up English from colonizers and slave masters. This would form a dialect that would then be used to make fun of Black people. These vocal mannerisms were used in publications and minstrel music (along with black face and “simple” percussive motifs) to make people feel comfortable with how they treated Black people.
- "But didn’t Black composers also write minstrel music? So we can perform it right?” - Black composers were ONLY allowed to publish minstrel music. And that’s if publishers were fine associating themselves with someone of color. They may or may not have been paid… and if they were, it was pennies on the dollar.
Teaching slavery is teaching history. We must understand how the people of the past created systems to demean people in order to build industry, celebrate how far relations between groups have come, and discover what we need to do in order to improve. Whereas minstrel music erases the truth of the history that should be taught and makes conversations about moving forward quite difficult. These pieces don’t provide truth. Just confusion and pain.
It’s exhausting to have to go through rep and curriculum again. It has been very taxing on me in a multitude of ways. Which is why I think it is imperative that we put pressure on the organizations that build this curriculum in the first place. You know that feeling where you teach something WAY better in your last class of they day than you do your first? The next day, we make an effort to provide that first class with the same content so everyone is on the same page.
Though I think we should all look at our classrooms and our hearts… if we do it alone, it can feel like a waste of time. It’s not at all… we just need reinforcements. You did the training. You learned the material. It’s not just up to you… someone one provided you with that and they should also be responsible for correcting it.
I hope this provides clarity.
Click here for a list of Songs with a Questionable Past, compiled by Lauren McDougle and here for great alternatives from members of Kodaly Educators of Texas you may not already be using.