And no, we’re not even talking about the Olivier version of Othello.
The New York Times article is writing about the shameful University of Michigan decision to cancel Bright Sheng, a talented Chinese composer, for screening Othello with Laurence Olivier in the starring role. The woke leftist paper predictably takes the side of the obnoxious woke lynch mob, including a white woke student who helped lead the lynch mob.
Sheng adds yet another apology.
In an email to The New York Times, Professor Sheng, 66, reiterated his apology. “From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say that I am terribly sorry,” he said.
“Of course, facing criticism for my misjudgment as a professor here is nothing like the experience that many Chinese professors faced during the Cultural Revolution,” he wrote. “But it feels uncomfortable that we live in an era where people can attempt to destroy the career and reputation of others with public denunciation. I am not too old to learn, and this mistake has taught me much.”
This literally sounds like the statements that academics made during the cultural revolution.
But since this is the New York Times and it’s a story written by one of the new wokes who don’t know anything, it only escalates from there.
Ayanna Thompson, the author of the recent book “Blackface” and a trustee of the Royal Shakespeare Company, declined to comment on the details of Professor Sheng’s case. But she said that when it comes to “Othello” and blackface minstrelsy, the connections aren’t incidental, but absolutely fundamental.
Contrary to widespread belief, she said, blackface wasn’t an American invention, but sprang from older European performance traditions going back to the Middle Ages. And it was at an 1833 performance of “Othello” featuring a blacked-up actor that T.D. Rice, the white American performer seen as the father of minstrelsy, claimed to have been inspired to get up at intermission and put on blackface to perform “Jump Jim Crow” for the first time.
“Whenever you’re teaching Shakespeare, period, the history of performing race should be part of the discussion,” Ayanna Thompson said. “Everyone has a responsibility to give the full history.”
It goes without saying that a professor of race is nothing but a professor of race. I’ve written before about the infiltration of critical race theory into Shakespeare. And here’s Thompson, whose academic credibility is on par with black nationalist critical race theory revisionists, on The Faerie Queene.
Why isn’t there already a rich body of premodern critical race studies of Spenser? The Faerie Queene, after all, is 430 years old, and premodern critical race studies is at least 50 years old. The epic poem has a rich and diverse cast of characters with both different religious and racial affiliations. This special edition marks a watershed moment in Spenser studies, but why has it taken until 2021 to achieve this? The answer, I think, stems from the way the racecraft of Spenser studies conceals the affiliation of its racism and inequality.
The answer, I think stems from the absolute radical corruption of academia in recent years.
But back to blaming Othello for blackface in America.
Ayanna Thompson admits that blackface “sprang from older European performance traditions going back to the Middle Ages” and then there’s this sentence. “And it was at an 1833 performance of “Othello” featuring a blacked-up actor that T.D. Rice, the white American performer seen as the father of minstrelsy, claimed to have been inspired to get up at intermission and put on blackface to perform “Jump Jim Crow” for the first time.”
Rice was imitating a slave, not Othello. Blackface existed in America long before 1833. Blackface routines existed in America in the 18th century. This is distinct from actors playing serious roles, either those of black people or mythological characters whose faces had to be painted black. Blackface could be racist caricature, or it could be any number of things. Even the racist element of blackface was really a sendup of rural America for New York audiences and was as likely to take shots at white southerners as black southerners.
Rice’s blackface routine was enormously popular in the UK not because the British were racist, but because sneering at rural Americans was popular.
Finally, while Rice was probably the most popular minstrel blackface performer, the whole thing really began taking off when British actor Charles Mathews came to America and developed a dialect routine in the 1820s.
Either way none of this derived from Shakespeare’s Othello. The idea that actors wearing blackface was the problem rather than the content of their performance, is how you get to the disgraceful lynching of Bright Sheng in Michigan.
When wokes can’t tell the difference between “Ev’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow” and “I kissed thee ere I killed thee: no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss”, they’re the ones with the problem.