A New Statesman essential non-fiction book of 2021.

Why are there so many examples of public figures, entertainers, and normal, everyday people in blackface? And why aren't there as many examples of people of color in whiteface? This book explains what blackface is, why it occurred, and what its legacies are in the 21st century. There is a filthy and vile thread-sometimes it's tied into a noose-that connects the first performances of Blackness on English stages, the birth of blackface minstrelsy, contemporary performances of Blackness, and anti-Black racism. "Blackface" examines that history and provides hope for a future with new performance paradigms.

Object Lessons is published in partnership with an essay series in The Atlantic.


Ayanna Thompson is a Regents Professor of English at ASU, where she also directs the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Praise for this book

'Blackface' reveals a legacy of performance that is pointed and detrimental, known but purposely forgotten. Thompson's analysis is exquisite and exact. A new entry for the historical record.

Ibram X. Kendi, founding director, Boston University Center for Antiracist Research Author of "How to Be An Antiracist"

This is great book, brave and clear, with excellent analyses and memorable arguments and examples.

Aleks Sierz