Whiting Up: Whiteface Minstrels & Stage Europeans in African American Performance


In the early 1890s, black performer Bob Cole turned blackface minstrelsy on its head with his nationally recognized whiteface creation, a character he called Willie Wayside. Just over a century later, hiphop star Busta Rhymes performed a whiteface supercop in his hit music video "Dangerous." In this sweeping work, Marvin McAllister explores the enduring tradition of "whiting up," in which African American actors, comics, musicians, and even everyday people have studied and assumed white racial identities.

Not to be confused with racial "passing" or derogatory notions of "acting white," whiting up is a deliberate performance strategy designed to challenge America's racial and political hierarchies by transferring supposed markers of whiteness to black bodies--creating unexpected intercultural alliances even as it sharply critiques racial stereotypes. Along with theater, McAllister considers a variety of other live performance modes, including antebellum cakewalks and contemporary stand-up comedy by solo artists such as Dave Chappelle. For over three centuries and in today's supposedly "postracial" America, McAllister argues, whiting up has allowed African American performers first to appropriate artistic products of a white imagination and then to fashion new black identities through these "white" forms, therefore enhancing our collective understanding of self and other.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Chapel Hill, NC
Publication year:
  • 2011


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