Publisher description for Sambo : the rise & demise of an American jester / Joseph Boskin.
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Before the tumultuous events of the 1960's ended his long life, "Sambo" prevailed in American culture as the cheerful and comical entertainer. Sambo was the stereotypical image of the black male which developed during the Colonial period, extended into all regions and classes, and pervaded
all levels of the popular culture for over two centuries, so much so that he could be regarded as the first humorous icon.
As Joseph Boskin notes, virtually all societies conceived of their slaves in servile terms, but in the North American hemisphere, the black slave came to be seen as both a worker and entertainer. Why this came to pass is bound up with white perceptions of the black male as a laborer possessing
a buguiling style. Whites were fascinated by black movement: the gait, music, language, and especially the laugh. Sambo was to be found everywhere in American society: in circuses and minstrel shows, in comic strips and novels, in children's stories, in advertisements and illustrations, in films
and slides, in magazines and newspapers, in postcards and greeting cards, and in knick-knacks found throughout the house. Whatever the variation of his image, the central element was always humor--Sambo was conceived as the initiator and butt of laughter.
Boskin shows how the stereotype began to unravel in the 1930's with several radio series, specifically the Amos 'n' Andy and Jack Benny shows. The relationship between Benny and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson--the first of the odd couples inelectronic media--particularly undercut and altered the
Sambo image as Rochester gradually achieved an aggressive stance with his "boss" and often reversed roles with him in a curious way. Finally, the democratic thrust of World War II, coupled with the black efforts to terminate Jim Crow practices and the rise of prominent black comedians on the
national level in the 1960's, laid Sambo to rest.
About the Author:
Joseph Boskin is Professor of History and Afro-American Studies and Director of the Urban Studies and Public Policy Program at Boston University. His previous books include Into Slavery and Humor and Social Change in the Twentieth Century.
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Popular culture -- United States.
Sambo (Fictitious character)
African American entertainers -- Biography.
African Americans in the performing arts.
Fools and jesters -- United States.
United States -- Race relations.
Stereotype (Psychology) -- United States.