Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Josephine Baker

so i've been hearing about this sirene Josephine Baker since...forever. but, like many of the individuals i've every Black History Month, i knew her name,knew just the basics of what she did as a black person or for black people.....and that was about it.
but recently, i've been looking more into her and and what exactly she did for the struggle.
here are some of her videos:

when i first saw these videos, the word that came to mind was "minstrel show". many people may see a beautiful woman simply dancing, but to me, it looked like the female version of the minstrel shows. as opposed to the often featured "mammy" (the overweight, asexual, grandmother-like mold many black women have been pigeon-holed into), she portrayed the jezebel that sufficed many men's fantasies; the wild creature of the animalistic negro race that craved sex.
in her most famous (famous on this side of the pond..) feature was her dance in the nicely phallic banana skirt, while topless in the setting of a jungle amongst black men dressed in loin-cloths all bearing the "oh-please-mr.white man-help-me-from-my-barbaric-savage-existence". this feeds into the idea that Africans live in uncivilized, barbaric cultures full of sex-crazed naked women that all need help from the white man. her dance was a colonizer's wet dream. and this is more and likely what made her famous in Europe.

Baker is famous for being the first black american female to make it big in France. she took her talent overseas when she was disgusted at having to go in the back door of clubs and lounges she sang and danced at, amongst the overall highly racist society that America was during the late 1800's/early 1900's.
in my research of her, i found out on that she was much more than a singer and dancer. she also helped European countries like Portugal and France while the Nazis were in the midst of taking over by hiding notes in her underwear and having letters written in invisible ink transported on her sheet music. she also helped with North African relations and was an associate of Fidel Castro. you can also see here some more info on her. she also adopted like 100 children all of different nationalities, while having a number of legal and non-legal marriages. in addition, she walked with Martin Luther King Jr. prior to his famous speech, used her house as a safe haven for those fleeing Nazi Germany, and she influences any American clubs and lounges to integrate by refusing to perform at segregated clubs.

so what of it? should she be celebrated by blacks as someone who helped in our progression although she fled the U.S. and became famous by feeding into white's stereotypes and degrading notions of African cultures? or should she be disregarded along with the others that have added to our subordination in American minstrel shows?
well, i think (like i said in the Eldridge Cleaver post...i believe..)its important to remember that these people that we regard as idols within the struggle are humans, and humans do make mistakes. but we do need to look at the entire picture, and not just the favorable perspectives of these individuals.

comment. criticize. agree. do some personal research.


  1. This really opened my eyes! Until today I had no use for Josephine baker in my history book. I just knew she was a dancer and read she helped race relations. In the literature that I read there was no mention to what she had actually done (or anything that really meant something in my eyes). I have a new respect for Josephine Baker thanks to you. You go gurl!

  2. you go gurl?
    who are you?
    The Fresh Prince?