By Caleb Parke, ,
Published December 18, 2017
“Jingle Bells,” one of the most well-known Christmas carols in the world, is now being called racist.
A Boston University theater professor claims the Christmas carol has a “problematic history” because it was originally performed to make fun of African Americans.
“The legacy of ‘Jingle Bells’ is one where its blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history,” Kyna Hamill, a BU theater historian, wrote in her “Theatre Survey” research paper on the story of “Jingle Bells.”
“Although ‘One Horse Open Sleigh,’ for most of its singers and listeners, may have eluded its racialized past and taken its place in the seemingly unproblematic romanticization of a normal ‘white’ Christmas, attention to the circumstances of its performance history enables reflection on its problematic role in the construction of blackness and whiteness in the United States,” she wrote.
Hamill started researching the history of the famous Christmas carol after a so-called “Jingle Bells War” – a dispute between two towns, Medford, Mass. and Savannah, Ga. – that claim to be the birthplace of the song written by James Pierpont.
“Its origins emerged from the economic needs of a perpetually unsuccessful man, the racial politics of antebellum Boston, the city’s climate, and the intertheatrical repertoire of commercial blackface performers moving between Boston and New York,” Hamill wrote.
The traces of blackface minstrel origins can be found in the music and lyrics, as well as the “elements of ‘male display,’ boasting, and the unbridled behavior of the male body onstage,” the author wrote.
The song’s lyrics, which Hamill adds “display no real originality,” and reference things like “Miss Fanny Bright” and “dashing through the snow” connect the song to blackface dandy, according to the research paper.
“Words such as ‘thro,’ ‘tho’t,’ and ‘upsot’ suggest a racialized performance that attempted to sound ‘southern’ to a northern audience,” Hamill wrote.
“As I mentioned in my article, the first documented performance of the song is in a blackface minstrel hall in Boston in 1857, the same year it was copyrighted,” Hamill told Fox News. “Much research has been done on the problematic history of this nineteenth-century entertainment.”
Hamill added that her research has been public for two years and has nothing to do with Christmas.
Jingle Bells was the first song ever broadcast from outer space in 1965, as reported by History.com.
The research paper was widely panned on social media with Twitter users calling it liberal overreach.
“Jingle Bells is racist, White Christmas is racist, Baby it’s Cold Outside is sexist. What the hell happend to the America I grew up in where people didn’t wake up every day trying to find something to be offended by?” one Twitter user wrote.
Another Twitter user said the song’s history is largely being maligned.
“Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh ! It's not racist,” another one wrote. “That professor is an idiot. The actors had black face because in the time, blacks weren't allowed to act. Because they sang it, doesn't make it racist.”