I’m More Than My Skin

I’ve always known that racism is a major part of American history, and because the color of my skin I am subject to many assumptions. After years of judgment and distorted beliefs, stereotypes arose. As a young child I was never aware that I would face some of the challenges I would eventually come to later in life. Pre-k through 3rd grade were some of my best years. I was surrounded by people who loved me for me, and was sheltered from any bigoted views from the outside world. Then fourth grade hit, and that was a wakeup call. My eyes were opened to reality in ways I never knew existed. Growing up in a predominately white town I learned early on that, I am viewed a certain way in the world. In 1619 the first group of slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. This isn’t news, but it goes to show how African Americans were viewed even 1000+ years ago. Clearly in this day and age slavery has ended, but has racism?

http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery/videos/origins-of-slavery

            In the 1920’s South, African Americans were constantly reminded of their place in white society. They were told that they had to enter buildings from a different place, drink from different water fountains, and use different restroom facilities all because of the color of their skin (Wadelington, F 2004). Also because of the stereotype of the time that African Americans were thought of as “dirty” and disease carrying. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was just beginning to surface with their views on African Americans (Wadelington F 2004). They added fuel to everyone’s fire, and are one of the reasons racism is still alive today.

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(Photograph represents segregation in the south)

Racist black stereotypes range from what some may call “comical” to derogatory and disrespectful on all levels. Multiple characters were created to portray African American people. One of the first characters portrayed was named Jim Crow. The character originated on minstrel show in the 1830’s when his character was first shown by a man, Thomas Rice, wearing black face (Padgett, K 2015). Many people credited Rice for creating this character when in reality he had observed slaves and their ways of signing and dance, and stole the idea and added his own style to it. The reason that it is important to realize that the character was appropriated by Rice is because what many saw on television was believed to be true, when in reality African Americans were only being looked upon as a joke.

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(Jim Crow character as seen in minstrel shows)

Other characters used were The Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire, but these women characters were used to portray how African American women are viewed as sex objects and only capable of domestic work (Pilgrim, D 2008). In researching The Mammy character, I have learned that she is the maid who get paid very little, and treats her white ”family” better than her own family.  She is the person who takes care of the children, washes the dishes, and cleans everything. Black women were often casted as the role of Mammy in films because they were not allowed to play any other character. They were not allowed to show that they could be anything else than a maid. One of the mammy characters used today is Aunt Jemima. She is an African American woman dressed as a maid on a popular syrup bottle. This shows how this caricatures are still alive, being used to entertain, and make a point today. The point being made with this character is that someone would want to buy the product because it was made by a maid character who is portrayed as being an excellent cook. The Aunt Jemima character is still offensive today because of the history it represents. The character itself is full of racist undertones, and having it on the product supports the views seen by the people who made it. Whether or not someone sees this character as offensive today, it has an offensive past regardless.

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The Jezebel character originated from the bible. She was a sultry temptress who’s main goal was to use her body to get what she desired. This image was put on to African American women. This made African American women look as though they had an unquenchable thirst for sex with white males. During the years of slavery, white male slave owners saw African American slave women as sexual objects that they can do with what they please. This led too many rapes, and since slaves did have any rights, legally it was considered okay. Jezebel characters often wore skimpy clothing, and tried to seduce their male counter parts. Black women are still being portrayed as sex objects today. One example is how they are seen in music videos. A popular music artist portrays herself as a sexual object by objectifying her body. You can often find Nicki Minaj flaunting her surgically modified rear end in tight clothing. She is known for her sexual music video “Anaconda” which is a song about men desiring women with large behinds.

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The Sapphire character is a rude, sassy, dominate woman who emasculated men. In the 1930’s this character was seen as comical by mimicking, and over exaggerating personalities of black women. The sapphire character became popular on the radio show Amos n’ Andy (1928 to 1960). The radio show was an all-white cast who would appropriated black culture. Later in the 1950’s the radio show turned into a television show with an all-black cast. The main purpose of the show was continued to mock African American cultures, and popularize black caricatures. This media lead others to believe that the jokes being made weren’t just jokes, but they were jokes on the African American race which in turn, lead people to think of the race as a whole, as a joke. The sapphire character is still being played in movies today. For example, director Tyler Perry often times has a sassy and rude woman play a Sapphire character, and she is often times emasculating men.

Through this course I have learned to not take something at face value, and to analyze it to find deeper meaning. For example, when I analyzed the Adidas commercial for the blog post. I was asked to find any patterns and figure out why it didn’t make sense. In my research for this project that is exactly what I did. I found out different ways to look at the information I collected, and bring it to one initial blog post. Another thing that I learned throughout this course was that I can use more than just text sources to support my findings. I can watch videos, analyze different excerpts, and I utilized all these findings in my project.

The way that African American people are viewed through media is not the way I see myself at all. They are often seen as lower than white people, and they are often viewed as sexual objects. The way I see my self is the complete opposite. I shouldn’t feel ashamed for being who I am even if the view of African American women have been obstructed. The way I was raised, and my experiences in life have shaped me to be the proud person that I am today. This project has reassured me on the fact that I am not just the color of my skin.

 

Works Cited

Padgett, Ken. “Blackface! – The History of Racist Blackface Stereotypes. Blackface! – The History of Racist Blackface Stereotypes  N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Padgett, Ken. “Blackface! Origins of Jump Jim Crow.” Blackface! N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Pilgrim, David. The Mammy Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum: The Mammy Caricature Ferris State University, Aug. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Pilgrim, David.  The Sapphire Caricature.” JCM: The Sapphire Caricature. Ferris State University, Aug. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Wadelington, Flora Hatley. “Segregation in the 1920s.” <i>Segregation</i>. Tar Heel Junior Historian. Spring 2004.1, 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

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2 thoughts on “I’m More Than My Skin

  1. kgraham840,

    I like how you started out your essay with a personal testimony and experience, I think that catches the readers attention very well. Overall I enjoyed reading your essay and learning about all the different portrayals of African American characters and their history. I think you analyze all the videos and imagery in great depth and add reveling thoughts that were new to me. I like how you made a connection with your significant learning moments with your original essay, that reinforced your message.

  2. Hi kgraham840,
    I never understand the racism issue in the US until I moved here. It is such a complex issue that I really don’t know how American can completely get rid of it. I’ve watched a few movies with positive traits about African American women such as Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, The Secret Life of Bees. I’m sure there are many racist stereotype in these movies but overall, after watching them, I think about African American women as strong, persistant, caring, and kind people. I always find Black culture in America very interesting when it comes to children discipline, family values and cuisine. I also think that black people in general are gifted with physical strength, singing and dancing talents.

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