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date: 27 October 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Antebellum Americans confronted anxieties about many issues, such as industrialization, immigration, and urbanization, that found expression in blackface minstrelsy and freak shows. In these performances, racial fears, gender worries, and the insecurities of an emergent working class combined with the specter of disability to assuage the concerns of white, working-class audiences partly by reinforcing whiteness, masculinity, and nondisability as markers of citizenship. From the “laughable limp” of an elderly, enslaved groom who inspired Thomas “Daddy” Rice to craft his infamous Jim Crow character to displays of the supposedly 161-year-old disabled body of Joice Heth, minstrelsy and freak shows routinely conflated race, gender, and disability on the antebellum stage. This practice reached its pinnacle with Thomas “Japanese Tommy” Dilward, one of only two black men to perform in blackface before the Civil War.

Keywords: blackface minstrelsy, Thomas Dilward, freak show, intersectionality, Thomas Rice, social constructivism, United States.

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