Day 10

The People vs. Betty Boop.
 
In 1934 there was a court case filed by a white woman named Helen Kane.  Kane was a popular vaudeville singer.  She sued the creators of the cartoon, Betty Boop, for stealing her character.  The likeness of the cartoon to Kane was certainly undeniable. She sued for $250,000, ownership of Betty’s “baby talk” act, and demanded a cease and desist of all future cartoons.  The case made it all the way to the New York Supreme Court.  And then it happened.  We learned the real story.  Helen Kane stole her entire squeaky-voiced “boop-boop-a-doop” act and catchphrase from a 9-year-old Black girl from Chicago named Esther Jones. 

"Baby Esther" was a phenomenal scat singer, and one of the most charismatic performers of her time.  She was a trained dancer and acrobat.  At 4-years-old, Russian-American theatrical manager Lou Bolton saw her performance and was blown away.  "She's a young Florence Mills," the newspapers said. Like Josephine Baker and many performers of her day, Baby Esther was not accepted in America because she was Black.  Instead, her manager arranged a European tour in 1929 and she was described as the highest-paid child artist in the world. She sold out the Moulin Rouge and performed for royals.

Back in Harlem, she got a new manager - another white man who also managed Helen Kane. One night, that talent manager brought Helen to a night club to study Baby Esther's act.  She did.  She stole it and became an overnight success in America.  Then, she demanded her royalties from the pop culture sensation that became Baby Boop.

BLACK HISTORY BOOTCAMP

Day 10: We are the #DaughtersOf Esther Jones


At GirlTrek, we say "never ask permission to save your own life."  We say it WHILE we work together to topple oppressive systems because we believe that we have what it takes to thrive.  But this story reminds us of the many things that have been stolen from us - resources, culture, reputation, royalties, and childhoods.  Let's take stock on today's call.

 
 
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Use #blackhistorybootcamp to speak up.  The juiciest conversation is happening on Twitter

- At the heart of this story is the exploitation of Black female labor.  At what age did you get a job?  Was that too soon? On average how many hours a week are you working now? Why?
 

- What exactly has been stolen from Black people - let's make a list?  Of that list, what have you directly experienced or been damaged by? Let's make the case.
 

- If you received $250,000 in reparations, what would you use it for?

 

Baby Esther's parents were complicit.  What pressure do we put on our own children to bring value to our lives?

 

Cultural appropriation of Blackness is rampant.  But what we don’t talk about as much is the total exploitation, theft, and erasure of Black female sexuality.  Let’s talk about it.

 

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