The Minstrelsy Lecture

Yeah, they got it. What was interesting was just that they missed layers of stuff. After I lectured a bit on the history, we watched a segment of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, and then watched it again with them noting “stereotype” characteristics, and then, when I noticed that most students had only listed a few, we went through it bit by bit and I excavated things like the watermelon stereotype, why a certain comment was sexual humor and sports humor and jailhouse humor all rolled into one, and some of the iconic characters and types in the lineup of dancers accompanying Mantan (such as Aunt Jemima and, I suspect but I’m not sure, Golliwog).

We got pretty far, but nowhere near the Harlem Renaissance. I think next time, we’ll just unpack this blackface minstrelsy thing a tough more, and then fast-forward to Harlem Renaissance, and then to the 50s, where Charlie Parker will serve as our bridge into what’s going on in white popular culture at the time, both comparatively (Mario Lanza? Frank Sinatra?) and connectively (through the Beats, specifically Jack Kerouac mentioning Bird in On The Road).

The other lesson I learned was that if I prepare for a lecture, it’s not quite as much work as I thought; it takes longer than I imagined to get through a certain amount of material, basically, and for a two-hour class, if we’re going to do some listening, and some viewing, and even a little discussion, then I don’t need to be prepared to actually talk for two hours. Given the scarcity of media on some subjects, it may well turn out that I will have to talk for two hours sometimes, but it won’t be that often. Which is fine: while a good lecture is a beautiful thing, a good lecture for 2 hours in a foreign language can be a painful thing for students. I think a big key is switching their attention from one thing to the next, seamlessly, without letup, but keeping it interesting all the way along. (And, of course, the ten-minute break in the middle helps.)

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