‘Reasserting white power’: behind the psychosis that gave rise to blackface

It’s 1830. You’re a poor Irish immigrant living in New York’s infamous Five Points slums. Penniless and uneducated, you’re viewed by affluent white society as every bit as inferior as the blacks you live among in overcrowded squalor.

As best as you can tell, you’ll never gain an ounce of status or wealth unless you can win the social acceptance of the Anglo elites. How do you convince them you’re white – a racial category that was still new and, they hoped, malleable – like them?

Paint yourself black, of course.

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