The Troubling History Of 'Dunk Tank' Carnival Games

black man in a dunk tank
Briona Lamback
July 18, 2022

Carnivals were once places for white people to use us as entertainment. A popular early 20th-century game called the African Dip, once known as “Dunk The Nigger", had Black men dressed as “African savages” in front of a jungle backdrop above a water tank resembling a boiling kettle. 

How the game worked was nothing to be grinning about.

A Black performer yelled insults at white carnival-goers until they grew infuriated.  They then paid to hit a target that would dump the performer in the tank. Some would even throw balls directly at the person instead!

Racism didn’t stop at the tanks, though. Whites would wait hours to physically assault the performer after the job was over, outside of the protected game area. 

The NAACP helped ban the game by the end of the 50s, but it has since been rebranded.

African Dip evolved into “Dunk Tank Clowns." Similarly, clowns hurl insults at carnival-goers, and often things still get racist AF.  

In 2014, a Memphis fair clown was fired after insulting a Black woman by yelling “Hey, nappy head” as she passed by.

No matter how much they hide horrific things from history by patching it up and calling it something new, anti-Black roots can’t be washed away.  We must always seek the truth about our history. It will help us focus our efforts in the struggle for liberation.

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