African Americans

My Mom Drank Ink: The "Little Negro" and the Performance of Race in Yente Telebende's Stage Productions

In Geveb: A Journal of Yiddish Studies

The arti­cle exam­ines the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Black peo­ple in Yente Telebende. She was one of the most suc­cess­ful char­ac­ters in ear­ly twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can Yid­dish cul­ture, appear­ing in com­ic columns by humorist B. Kovn­er (pen name of Yankev Adler) in the social­ist Forverts (1910s-1920s) and in sev­er­al pop­u­lar the­ater pro­duc­tions that the Forverts pro­mot­ed. A recur­ring char­ac­ter was the friend of Yente’s son, called the ​“Lit­tle Negro/​Niger” (ניגער’ל), the only name­less char­ac­ter in Kovner’s sketch­es. The arti­cle revis­es the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal con­ven­tion, accord­ing to which Yid­dish cul­ture viewed African Amer­i­cans as ​“America’s Jews” and demon­strates how the Yid­dish press and the­ater were immersed in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can racial imagery and vocab­u­lary. Fur­ther­more, the writ­ten and per­formed char­ac­ter of the ​“lit­tle Negro” shows that we should not take at face val­ue much of the ide­o­log­i­cal line of Yid­dish news­pa­pers and their hier­ar­chy between shund and ​“prop­er” cul­ture, as the same authors com­mon­ly pro­duced both.