Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Censoring Racial Ridicule

Censoring Racial Ridicule: Irish, Jewish, and African American Struggles over Race and Representation, 1890-1930

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Censoring Racial Ridicule
    Book Description:

    A drunken Irish maid slips and falls. A greedy Jewish pawnbroker lures his female employee into prostitution. An African American man leers at a white woman. These and other, similar images appeared widely on stages and screens across America during the early twentieth century. In this provocative study, M. Alison Kibler uncovers, for the first time, powerful and concurrent campaigns by Irish, Jewish and African Americans against racial ridicule in popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century.Censoring Racial Ridiculeexplores how Irish, Jewish, and African American groups of the era resisted harmful representations in popular culture by lobbying behind the scenes, boycotting particular acts, and staging theater riots. Kibler demonstrates that these groups' tactics evolved and diverged over time, with some continuing to pursue street protest while others sought redress through new censorship laws.Exploring the relationship between free expression, democracy, and equality in America, Kibler shows that the Irish, Jewish, and African American campaigns against racial ridicule are at the roots of contemporary debates over hate speech.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1838-8
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-20)

    A male actor impersonates a drunken, clumsy Irish woman. A greedy Jewish pawnbroker lures his female employee into prostitution. An African American man leers at a white woman. For many Irish, Jewish, and African Americans in the early twentieth century, these images on stage and screen were harmful assaults on their reputations, and for some, they were matters of life and death. One hundred years ago, Irish, Jewish, and African American leaders believed that the representation of their race in mass culture helped determine their social status, their safety, and their political ambitions. In turn, they developed varied protest strategies—...

  5. CHAPTER ONE THE MINSTREL SHOW AND THE MELEE Irish, Jewish, and African Americans in Popular Culture and Politics
    (pp. 21-50)

    Two theatrical traditions—the minstrel show and the musical comedy melee—capture the histories of racial caricature as well as the social and political relationships between Irish, Jewish, and African Americans. Theatrical productions and early films repeated racial caricatures of these groups; Irish, Jewish, and African American characters frequently jostled with each other on stage; and Irish and Jewish performers specialized in imitating African American characters. First, minstrelsy stands for the hierarchy of immigrant groups over African Americans and the ways that Irish and Jewish citizens alienated African Americans as they improved their own status in the United States. Significantly,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO PRACTICAL CENSORSHIP Irish American Theater Riots
    (pp. 51-81)

    The wave of protests against racial caricatures began with the splat of a stink bomb on stage. An angry Irish American nationalist was probably the first to let it fly. In 1878 an Irish “mob” in Boston threw “missiles” at Dion Boucicault’sThe Shaughraunbecause of an uproarious Irish wake, and, in the early 1880s, the Irish disrupted various Harrigan and Hart productions.¹ Theater riots were a controversial centerpiece of the Irish campaign against the offensive caricatures commonly known as the “Stage Irish.”² In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Irish in America stopped or significantly altered two...

  7. CHAPTER THREE IMMORAL … IN THE BROAD SENSE Censoring Racial Ridicule in Legitimate Theater
    (pp. 82-115)

    Irish nationalist protesters willingly risked arrest in their drive to stop offensive productions in vaudeville and musical comedy. But these leaders, along with African American and Jewish activists, also increasingly tried to get the performers arrested. They often succeeded. This chapter examines how protesters began to use lawful means to censor two plays that they thought constituted harmful racial insults. African Americans attackedThe Clansmanin 1905 and 1906, while Irish nationalists in the United States started their assault onThe Playboy of the Western Worldin 1911. Elements of the earlier disruptions remained—a lone egg tossed atThe...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR SHYLOCK AND SAMBO CENSORED Jewish and African American Campaigns for Race-Based Motion Picture Censorship
    (pp. 116-146)

    The censorship struggles over racial representation in legitimate theater quickly moved to the regulation of the new medium of motion pictures. In 1907, the African American attorney S. Joe Brown succeeded in getting Des Moines to pass an ordinance against any “inflammatory play … calculated … to create an antipathy for any particular race, nationality or class of individuals,” but it failed to stop its intended target,The Clansman. Black activists turned to this law, however, when they tried to stopThe Birth of a Nation, the film version ofThe Clansman.¹ Just eight months after Des Moines acted against...

    (pp. 147-170)

    Chicago’s 1907 motion picture censorship law, the inauguration of motion picture censorship in the United States, did not simply ban “immoral or obscene” films.¹ The law gave Chicago police the power to ban any film that was “obscene, or portrays depravity, criminality or lack of virtue of a class of citizens of any race, color, creed or religion and exposes them to contempt, derision or obloquy, or tends to produce a breach of the peace or riots, or purports to represent any hanging, lynching or burning of a human being.”² Adolf Kraus, a Jewish attorney, civic leader, and the law’s...

  10. CHAPTER SIX WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOR Free-Speech Advocates Confront Race-Based Censorship
    (pp. 171-202)

    Civil rights censors argued that government censors should ban films that caused racial prejudice, while free-speech advocates like the filmmaker D. W. Griffith worried that censorship itself was “bitter prejudice.”¹ What, then, did these opposing sides mean by “prejudice”? They agreed that it indicated narrow-minded or irrational belief. But civil rights censors saw prejudice in motion pictures as a barrier to racial and religious equality. The ADL, for example, referred to motion pictures as “dangerous instruments of prejudice.”² The opponents of government interference, however, worked to stop prejudice in censorship, by which they meant political partisanship or narrow advocacy for...

    (pp. 203-218)

    The Jazz Singer, the first feature film with sound, premiered in 1927. Starring Al Jolson as a cantor’s son who chooses a stage career instead of his family’s rigid Jewish tradition,The Jazz Singeris famous both for its technological innovation and Jolson’s emotional blackface scenes. These blackface performances highlight both cross-racial affinity and exploitation. Jolson’s forlorn songs seemed to express some sympathy with African American pain: the performer had a strong African American fan base that linked him to Bert Williams, and he was known for his “cross-racial conviviality” with African American artists in the 1920s.¹ But the blackface...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 219-278)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-300)
  14. Index
    (pp. 301-314)