Where Did The Term Jim Crow Originate From

What are some ways that the origin of the term "Jim Crow" is offensive?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The term "Jim Crow originated from the Minstrel shows of the early nineteenth century in which Whites dressed in blackface mocked slaves and free Blacks. The implication was that Blacks were lazy, dull-witted and slow; and that whereas slaves were basically content and happy, freed blacks were like fish out of water.

A famous actor/performer of the minstrel shows was Thomas "Daddy" Rice, who often shuffled on to stage overdressed in a worn tuxedo and black face, and began his routine by singing:

I jump jis so/ and ev'y time I turn around I jump Jim Crow.

Another actor of the day whose nickname led to a similarly offensive sobriquet was George Washington Dixon who portrayed a character known as "Zip Coon."

Jim Crow soon became a pejorative term applied to all Blacks. "Jim Crow" laws were a throwback to the days of the Minstrel Shows and were calculated to add an insulting tone to laws restricting the rights of freed Blacks. The implication was they might now be free, but they were still be dull witted oafs whom Southerners had mocked for many years before.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The origins of the term "Jim Crow" are offensive in a number of ways.  Among them are:

  • The widespread use of the term was originated by a white man.
  • The term can be seen as a condescending and offensive reference to skin color and to the idea that African Americans were in some way less than human.
  • Most importantly, the use of the term comes out of the tradition of "minstrel shows."  These were shows that were inherently racist in that they were based around making fun of the supposed stupidity of African Americans.

Of course, the origin of the term is in no way as offensive as the laws that were referred to as "Jim Crow laws."  Offensiveness is bad, but actual legal segregation and discrimination is worse.


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