The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, after the Civil War, black people in blackface.
Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical. The minstrel show began with brief burlesques and comic entr’actes in the early 1830s and emerged as a full-fledged form in the next decade. In 1848, blackface minstrel shows were the national art of the time, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience.
The minstrel show played a powerful role in shaping White America’s assumptions about blacks. However, unlike vehemently anti-black propaganda from the time, minstrelsy made this attitude palatable to a wide audience by couching it in the guise of well intentioned paternalism. Blacks were in turn expected to uphold these stereotypes or else risk white retaliation. Popular entertainment perpetuated the racist stereotype of the uneducated, ever-cheerful, and highly musical black well into the 1950s.
The racist archetypes that blackface minstrelsy helped to create persist to this day; some argue that this is even true in hip hop culture and movies.