Journal Assignment #1

Content warning: racist imagery.

  1. Read the attached essay, “Race and the Embodiment of Culture,” by John Szwed (published in the journal Ethnicity, 2, 1975).

2. Watch video of the folksong and folkdance forms Szwed mentions, first in those with greater synchronization and organization:

Sub-Saharan African:


Eastern European:

Then those with lesser synchronization and organization:

Western European:


Middle Eastern:

3. Watch videos of minstrelsy (both in and out of blackface) by the artists Szwed cites:

Al Jolson:

Amos N’ Andy:

Eddie Cantor:

Mick Jagger:

4. View some nineteenth-century racist cartoons of Irish immigrants, which Szwed mentions in his article:

In your journal, write answers to the following questions. Write in complete sentences!

  1. Szwed opens his essay with the statement:

One of the ironies of this not-so-happy century is that although it was the first time in human history in which a concerted effort was made to discredit racist ideology, it was also the occasion on which an enormous number of lives were sacrificed in the name of race.

What does he mean?

2. On p. 27, Szwed talks about the first generation of practitioners of blackface minstrelsy to be recorded and filmed – Al Jolson, Amos and Andy, et al. He then mentions Mick Jagger as a practitioner of this tradition, only “without blackface.” What do you think he means?

3. What does Szwed mean when he says, on p. 30:

The irony of the situation is obvious: the low-status [racial/cultural] group, cut off from the sources of power and production in the larger society, is at the same time less alienated [than the high-status group] from its own cultural productions. The twist is that the elite of society is free to draw on the lower group’s cultural pool. Were there ever more massive examples of the conversion of community life and culture into commodity than those in which black folk life has been turned into national culture in the US?

Give a musical example of this process of conversion of black culture into national culture.

4. At the close of his essay, Szwed says:

We now find ourselves becoming famished and desperate students of the discredited and displaced in a pastoral of ludicrous dimensions.

What does he mean? Give a musical example that reflects the ways that you believe mainstream America is “famished and desperate” for authenticity in culture. Does this involve cultural appropriation?

Bonus: What is a “pastoral”? What connotations does this term have for the study of African-American music?

Due in class on September 5.