Being Black America Essay

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The "foppish" black caricature, Jim Crow, became the image of the black man in the mind of the white western world (Engle, 1978).

This image was even more powerful in the north and west because many people never had come into contact with African-American individuals.

Early silent movies such as "The Wooing and Wedding of a Coon" in 1904, "The Slave" in 1905, "The Sambo Series" 1909-1911 and "The Nigger" in 1915 offered existing stereotypes through a fascinating new medium (Boskin, 1986). Griffith film, the Ku Klux Klan tames the terrifying, savage African-American through lynching.

The premiere of "Birth of a Nation" during the reconstruction period in 1915 marked the change in emphasis from the happy Sambo and the pretentious and inept Jim Crow stereotypes to that of the Savage. Following emancipation, the image of the threatening brute from the "Dark Continent" was revitalized.

As an accommodation to this law, African-Americans developed a shuffling dance in which their feet never left the ground.

The physically impaired man Rice saw dancing in this way became the prototype for early minstrelsy (Engle 1978).Images of the Sambo, Jim Crow, the Savage, Mammy, Aunt Jemimah, Sapphire, and Jezebelle may not be as powerful today, yet they are still alive.One of the most enduring stereotypes in American history is that of the Sambo (Boskin, 1986).Acts of racial violence were justified and encouraged through the emphasis on this stereotype of the Savage.The urgent message to whites was, we must put blacks in their place or else (Boskin, 1986).In 1830, when "Daddy" Rice performed this same dance, "..effect was electric..." (Bean et al., 1996, p. White actors throughout the north began performing "the Jim Crow" to enormous crowds, as noted by a New York newspaper."Entering the theater, we found it crammed from pit to dome..." (Engle, 1978, p. This popularity continued, and at the height of the minstrel era, the decades preceding and following the Civil War, there were at least 30 full-time blackface minstrel companies performing across the nation (Engle, 1978).It is essential to realize the vast scope of this stereotype.It was transmitted through music titles and lyrics, folk sayings, literature, children's stories and games, postcards, restaurant names and menus, and thousands of artifacts (Goings, 1994).In fact, "a stereotype may be so consistently and authoritatively transmitted in each generation from parent to child that it seems almost a biological fact" (Boskin, 1986, p. The stereotyping of African-Americans was brought to the theatrical stage with the advent of the blackface minstrel (Engle, 1978). His inspiration for the famous minstrel dance-and-comedy routine was an old, crippled, black man dressed in rags, whom he saw dancing in the street (Engle, 1978).Beginning in the early 19th century, white performers darkened their faces with burnt cork, painted grotesquely exaggerated white mouths over their own, donned woolly black wigs and took the stage to entertain society. This "city dandy" was the northern counterpart to the southern "plantation darky," the Sambo (Engle, 1978 p. During that time, a law prohibited African-Americans from dancing because it was said to be "crossing your feet against the lord" (Hoffmann, 1986, video).

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