Of Course The Best Circus in the World is Black-Owned
Black people in early circuses were treated like animals, exoticised, and made into spectacles. They worked under harsh conditions- not receiving ample food, shelter, or pay.
One of the earliest stories of a Black person’s experience in the circus comes from Sarah Baartman, who was stolen in 1810 from South Africa and taken to London for the purpose of being exhibited in the Piccadilly Circus.
She had a very large bottom, unlike anything a European had seen, and was considered a freak of nature. Ironically, her body type would later be the inspiration for the famous bustle/hoop dresses in Europe.
Towards the end of the 19th century, George and William Muse were abducted by a bounty hunter and forced into the Ringling Brothers circus as young kids. They were billed as “cannibals,” “sheep-headed freaks,” and “ambassadors from Mars.”
Exactly 100 years later, Johnson Iverson became first African-American ringmaster for Ringling Bros. after the Muse brothers had been exploited by them.
It has been a long journey from Blacks being enslaved unpaid acts to having our own platform to genuinely showcase Black circus talent. In 1994, Cedric Walker founded the first and only African American-owned circus in the world -- Universoul Circus.
The existence of the Universoul Circus is a statement. It allows for a deep connection between the performers and audience through music, dance, and use of cultural lingo and themes.
Bringing together talent from all over the planet, Walker’s circus celebrates diversity and enables performers to be paid fairly for their showmanship.
Blacks have always had the most desirable abilities and appearances, but it’s not until we own our own institutions that we get full respect for these qualities. Our bodies and talents are nothing to be ashamed of or devalued.
We must remember we are worth more than what we can make for white people and always have the opportunity to capitalize on our gifts ourselves.
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