TW/CW: Racist imagery, blackface minstrelsy.


You know what blackface is.

Is there such a thing as blackVOICE? What is it?

Historically, we might call “blackvoice” one of the performative tools of blackface minstrelsy. In the days when minstrelsy was considered an acceptable form of entertainment, blackface and blackvoice existed simultaneously in the same performance/performer.

What about now?

Iggy Azalea is only one of the most obvious white adopters of a “blaccent” in her work. The practice is of long standing, however.

As early as 1973, critic John Szwed called Mick Jagger a practitioner of blackface minstrelsy, “only without the blackface.” What do you think he meant?

Before Mick, there were the Temptones, an r&b/soul band from North Philadelphia. They sounded like the Temptations, but they were four Jewish college students who met at Temple University (hence their name). One of them, Daryl Hohl, would achieve fame as Daryl Hall, one-half of Hall and Oates.

The Temptations:

This is Alison Moyet, a white English “blued-eyed soul” singer from the 1980s.

Covering this classic hit:

Is it blackvoice?

Is this?

Is this?

And my favorite: the great singer Phoebe Snow (1950-2011). I first discovered her in my mother’s record collection as a child and fell in love.

In her lifetime, Phoebe was commonly believed to be black, not only because of her looks, but also because of her voice. In fact, she was a Jewish girl from Teaneck, New Jersey.

What does she mean here when she says “there is only one answer to [the] question” of whether she was black?

How would you define blackvoice? Is it acceptable? Does it raise the same uncomfortable questions as blackface?

Is there such a thing as “whitevoice”?

In this 1980 performance of Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Harem), African-American soprano Reri Grist sings the role of Blonde (which means “Blondie” in German), an English maid who, with her mistress, has been taken captive in a Turkish harem. The gruff harem guard, Osmin, takes a shine to her; she tweaks him, telling him that women like to be treated with kindness.

Recently, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was accused, mainly by commentators on the political right, of engaging in blackvoice:

She responded to her critics by referring to code-switching, the practice of alternating between dialects or accents depending on what the situation calls for.

As linguist John McWhorter says, echoing AOC: “Ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

What do you think?

Related: “White Liberals Dumb Themselves Down When They Speak to Black People, a New Study Contends.”



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