A petition started by Sabrina Lamb calling for the cancellation of the show has over 3,800 supporters and growing, on change.org. “By pushing these degrading images, your company seeks to profit from the humiliation of girls and women and the blatant stereotyping of African-Americans,” writes Lamb in the petition. “We think Oxygen and the show’s creators and producers have gone too far and if this show is aired, we will, without hesitation, boycott any and all companies that advertise during this minstrel show.”
But aren't all our reality shows minstrels? Why is this one so different? The minstrel (show), or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment form that consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface, and later after the Civil War, by black people in blackface. The shows lampooned black people incorporating a number of archetypes and stereotypes, such as us being: dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical. By the early 20th century, the minstrel show had all but been replaced by the more popular vaudeville. However, the blackface performers didn't disappear but was a common acts on vaudeville stages and in legitimate theater. Al Jolson took blackface to the big screen in The Jazz Singer, and Mammy. Even early cartoons gave characters like Mickey Mouse and Raggedy Ann minstrel-show qualities; (Mickey is always singing, dancing, and smiling, while the face of Raggedy Ann is a color-reversed minstrel mask, and Raggedy Ann's creator, John Gruelle, admits to using minstrel star Fred Stone as his prototype. In radio, the minstrel survived in the popular radio shows Two Black Crows, Sam and Henry, and the most familiar, Amos 'n' Andy.
No doubt the racist archetypes that blackface minstrel shows helped to create persist to this day; many elements can be seen in hip hop culture and contemporary black movies, Tyler Perry's for example. A major theme of Spike Lee's Bamboozled was that modern black entertainment exploits Afrikan American culture just as much as minstrel shows did a century earlier.
All of the above is true. However, the entire black music edifice also grew from the minstrel shows: from Gospel to Blues (which gave birth to R&B). Stereotypes established back then, we have retained in contemporary black music, including Rap Music. (And the minstrel is making a grand show of himself in Dance Hall.) So what's my point? American entertainment was and continues to be nurtured from minstrelsy, and unfortunately many Afrikan American have made a living off of it. A good living. Therefore, it is in the class interest of some of us, to continue to perpetuate our own degradation--it pays bills and builds wealth. It'll be a small victory if we can stop this impending minstrel, but we have many more battles to wage in order to win this war. It is a war over how we see the world and ourselves in it. We must erect images of ourselves as key players on the stage of human historical theater and not as supporting characters with bit parts, or as comic relief, in Western cinema's B-movies.