Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Race and Representation

i was reading an article about an artist by the name of Kenya (Robinson) on a blog and something she said stuck out to me:
"I feel like Black people in America (specifically) feel a sense of shame attached to the brutality of our collective history. I hope to inspire a sense of entitlement that comes from acknowledging our strength and recognizing our birth right to the American dream. I wish to inspire active questioning through my artwork. Whether it’s an address to the lucrative ambitions of the prison-industrial complex (or a visual investigation of the misrepresentation of women in mass media (White Bitches: The Platinum Eaters). There is a reason that Art can transcend language- I believe that I can help create a space to insert diverse voices into this dialogue."

i think theres at least a tinge of shame as well as a lot of ignorance and misinformation surrounding our history. i read a book a while back that spoke about shame and how people are shameful of things they shouldn't be many a times. being a descendant of a slave and being raped, for example. i believe the book was Black Rage.

i would really like to explore more imagery of black and brown people from a time when our society was more covertly racist. googling words like "mammy", "jim crow", and "pickaninny" produce a plethora of strikingly racist, negative, and sometimes just confusing images from the past. for example, i've seen an image of black children with alligators many a times without the slightest explaination. recently, a blog i follow-Abagond, did a post about the history of "Gator Bait" that provides the story behind the photos.

more importantly, how have the images of the past translated to the present day? have they translated at all? if so, what is the impact on our society? what is the impact on our individual identities? does anyone see similarities between, for example, mammy and the black woman with a southern fried accent selling none other than chicken on Church's commercials (really. the only thing she's missing is a gingham rag on her head, a white baby on her hip, and the omnipresent "yessa massa". although theres a mountain of reasons to stop eating at Church's, i'd stop eating there just off that)?

comment. think. criticize.
also, if you have some other photos that have racist content for other groups of people, feel free to share. i know there are plenty of racist cartoons from the early 1900's depicting Mexicans and Fillipinos in demeaning and ignorant ways, but there weren't many i could find on my search.


  1. these images are so filled with hate that they disturb me.

  2. exactly exactly. i feel like putting these images everywhere...in my neighborhood, in my room, on my facebook, on the subway...
    i feel like seeing these images and their blaring racism could actually be a catalyst to progressive dialogue on how we are currently represented in the media.
    yes, excactly. they make me angry and depressed and hurt and more angry. they're very powerful images, especially those of black children being used as alligator bait...

  3. Why poison yourself? You do understand that allowing this kind of image to penetrate into your subconscious is abuse, don't you?

    I see what you are doing to yourself as a kind of masochism. What you don't realise is that your subconscious mind is like a tiny child, innocent, open and highly receptive. Filling it with nightmarish images of hate and evil directed against people that it identifies itself with is in my opinion no different than forcing a tiny child to absorb the same images.

    No wonder you are feeling hurt, anger and depression. From this place it's impossible that your work can provide healing for others. You can't give what you don't possess. You'll only be able to transmit the pain, rage and depression that you experience to others and thus allow the evil work of these racists to continue to blight black people's lives, starting with your own.

    If you really want to change or transform the past that they represent, build a bonfire and burn all the copies of the images you can get your hands on.

    Gather with friends, pray, sing, chant, dance and burn them whilst visualising the transformation of all the collective hate and suffering they represent into healing and renewal for yourself and the black community as a whole.
    This is a very powerful act and it will bring emotional relief, and over time many real positive changes in your life.

  4. hello Anonymous. thanks for the comment. i actually like what you're proposing i do. There may indeed be some healing in the process of burning these images. however, burning them will not affect the fact that they are seared into my, and many others’ subconscious (read my post for today-9/30).

    i think for myself, and for the majority of Americans (black and non-black), images, thoughts, concepts and stereotypes like the ones depicted in these drawings are somewhere in our subconscious. whether we would like to admit it (especially for whites) or not, it is there. and i think the only way (or one of the many progressive ways) to truly get to place where we as a community (the american; the post-colonial community) can get past the concepts prevalent in these images is to confront them; to look at them; to discuss them; to feed on them and take in whatever feelings they put out, if only temporarily. i think this needs to be done on a conscious (blatant; even shocking) level in order for us to understand how it works and manifests itself in our subconscious; how it affects our interactions with people from different backgrounds; how it motivates our fears and our preferences.

    The black infant mortality rate is about 3 times that of the average white infant right now. Even when poverty is take out of the picture. Black women get diagnosed less often than white women and are almost twice as likely to die from breast cancer than our white counterparts. Why? Are these sentiments like the ones in which black babies are used as alligator bait somewhere in the mind of the doctor, the insurance company, the nurse, or the caregiver??

    look at the photos where "Africans" are depicted-2 inches tall, thirsting after watermelons, carrying some white man, barefoot and docile... this is the image that many americans have in their heads of African peoples. as a child, i recall myself asking my parents why i have to call myself "African American" when i'm not from Africa. i'm not "...running around chasing cheetahs and living in a hut.." that was me at 10, 11 years old. and where in the world did i get this idea that Africa was a continent with ONE culture of wild, barbaric people living barefoot and in the jungle? and where in the world did i get the idea that their lifestyle was somehow inferior to mine?

    and this is what i want people of color to know-to know what we were once thought of, how we are still regarded by some, how it has shaped us as a community, how it has broken us down. and once we understand that, i think we can truly start working towards some solutions.

    the american society has forgotten how racialized we once were, how much the building of this nation relied on race and how some people risked their own health to be considered another race. and we, as a society, have never fully analyzed what that did/is doing to our individual and societal psyches. something like that is long overdue. And, as a visual learner, I think imagery like this can definitely be a step towards that.

  5. (*continued)
    Burning these images, or hiding them from ourselves (prior to us confronting them) is not going to better our understanding of…anything, really. It’s almost as if you’re proposing we forget that we were once considered sub-human and treated as such. And while it can be painful and even depressing, it needs to be done to progress. I read a lot of slave narratives and stories having to do with slavery. And when I read them at my job, my coworkers (all black) inquire into what I’m reading, and after I show they the book cover, I get a strange look and question as to how I can read this depressing stuff. But, the more and more I read, the less depressing and more empowering it becomes. When you fully understand what physical and mental tribulations we overcame, it is empowering.

    I can tell that your comment and motivation is coming from a place of love, and I really respect that.

    i don't own any of these images, but if i ever get my hands on any, theres no chance they'd be burned. these are going up in my kitchen, bathroom, and living room. kind of in the same way a soldier keeps the bullet that pierced his lung and took 9 hours to extract...and now shows his bullet and bulletwound to everyone as a sign of what he or she overcame.
    although i do understand that we're a community of individuals, and what is empowering for me can be traumatic for someone else. if these images caused you or anyone else any unnecessary pain, that was not my intent.