Friday, January 16, 2009

Why the ‘Minstrel’ Foundation?

Why is this Regent Park organization bearing the name of white supremacy?

by Steve da Silva
Basics Issue #12 (Jan/Feb 2009)

The Minstrel Foundation is a Toronto-based music education charity that has as its mandate “to secure and expand the opportunity for inner city young people to study and excel in music.” While this cause seems praiseworthy enough, this organization needs to seriously consider changing its name.

For those who are not familiar with the word ‘Minstrel’, in a North American context the word’s most common usage traces back to the “Minstrel Shows” of the 19th century where white actors with blackened faces would tour around the country and lampoon and caricature the behaviours of Africans. Later, after the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S. where slaves were set “free”, these white theatre companies would often enlist Africans directly in playing out their own ridicule. Some have considered today’s corporate media giants like BET or MTV to be promote modern forms of Minstrel, since those black entertainers who get the most play propagate the most destructive values for black people.

If we choose to trace the word further back into history, we find that Minstrel is etymologically derivative of the Old French word menestral, which meant both entertainer and servant, and tracing further back from the Latin word ministerialis, it meant servant. Therefore, whichever way we play it, the word ‘minstrel’ carries a connotation that implies subordination and is offensive to whosoever the term may be directed at.

Is the message that this organization is sending to Toronto’s “inner city” youth that they only have a future in entertaining people born into privileges greater than their own? Is it not enough of an affront to the minds of these youth that they are constantly being seduced with the images of role models as basketball players, rappers, and scantly-clad women in music videos?

The Minstrel Foundation is greatly offending Toronto’s racialized working-class masses by carrying out their charity work under the banner white supremacy. On December 25, 2008, I personally emailed a letter to this organization expressing these sentiments (see our website for a copy); but they have not responded.

If this organization chooses not to account for its actions, this should be a sign to Torontonians of the attitudes contempt, ignorance, and indifference that people of privilege hold towards historically (and presently) oppressed peoples. A disguised racism is far more menacing to us than an overt one.
The racist “Darky” iconography illustrated on this Toronto-based Minstrel show poster appeared on sheet music from the 1870s through the 1940s.