The Blackface of White Christmas

The Irving Berlin Song ‘Mandy’ Cloaked Racism in Nostalgia on American Stages and Screens for Nearly 40 Years

White Christmas is a staple of the holiday season. Every winter, the 1954 movie-musical brings Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen into our homes to sing and dance their way through rural Vermont. But what might seem like wholesome entertainment takes a turn when the cast performs “Mandy,” a song reminiscing about “the minstrel days we miss.”

The jarring musical number demonstrates how blackface minstrelsy embedded itself in popular culture long after the practice itself became taboo, and how, by cloaking its message in nostalgia, incarnations of the same hateful genre have …