References Jannette L. Dates and William Barlow’s collection, Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media, and agrees with their argument that African American stereotypes can be traced back to the antebellum popular culture. There are five main stereotypes that lasted for decades and made a big impact on how African Americans are perceived. The first is All-Negro Comics, the first All-Negro Comic was published in 1947, it was the first American comic book to be written and drawn by all African Americans. The artists were John Terrell, and George J. Evans Jr. The main characters were Ace Harlem, and Lion Man. The following image was the first page in the Comic Book.
Orrin C. Evans hoped to achieve to the public a new culture where African Americans were police officers, detectives, intelligent, and adventurous. However instead of creating a comic book with white and black people, the Negro Comic reinforced the idea of segregation. There were white people comics, and black people comics. A clear distinction between races, its aim to achieve, “a finer appreciation of African heritage” was surrounded by discriminatory ideas that white and black people couldn’t live in the same world.the comic also reinforced that idea that African Americans were like animals, savage, and to white culture confirmed their idea that African Americans could not be tamed. This comic book represented the idea that African Americans were different then white people, and contributed to African American stereotypes in the United States.
The second stereotype of African Americans in media is the coin phrase “Jim Crow”. Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws, that were reinforced in the South till 1965. This laws came into place after the Civil War, and became the common phrase when referring to black rights. These laws forced segregation in public places, such as school, restrooms, restaurants, workplaces, drinking fountains, military, and transportation. The phrase Jim Crow came from Thomas D.Rice who performed blackface, to the song “Jump Jim Crow”, this connected Jim Crow to being a negro. The name Jim Crow, or Jim Cuff dates back to the 1830s, based on an African Slave.
The Third stereotype is the slang word Pickaninny. This term is directed towards dark skinned children, and became very popular in America when regarding to African American children.Picaninnies had wide mouths, messy hair, red lips, and big eyes, they often were portrayed as shoving watermelon in their mouths. This phrase was used in media such as J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan where he refers to the Indians who live in Neverland as, “members of the Picaninny tribe.” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe her characer Topsy was “the first famous picaninny.” In 1935 and 1936 the term is used in two Shirley Temple films, The Little Colonel, and The Littlest Rebel. The term in both of these films is used towards slave children.
The fourth stereotype focuses more on black women in media, this is The Tragic Mulatto, which is a fictional character of American literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Tragic Mulatto character is represented as someone with a mixed race, usually a mother who is black and a father who is white. The character often faced suicidal thoughts, sadness, because of their race. Lydia Maria child came up with the character in two stories, the first one came out in 1842, called The Quadroons and Slavery’s Pleasant Homes written in 1843. The character believed she was white however her mother was a black slave, and her father was a white master. After her father died she discovered that she wasn’t purely white, she had to go into slavery where she died, and her white lover left her. Media took the idea of The Tragic Mulatto and used the character over a century later in books, and films. The character again was shown as depressed, suicidal, and hatred towards her skin. In the 1950s movies portrayed the tragic mulatto character, however they often were played by white actress. Ferris State University has a Jim Crow Museum, on their website they stated, “The Mulatto women portrayed in Show Boat, lost Boundaries, and Kings Go Forth were portrayed by white actresses. It was common practice. Producers felt that white audiences would feel sympathy for a tortured white woman, even if she was portraying a mulatto character. The audience knew she was really white.” For black women in media they were constantly being told that they needed to be lighter. Beautiful women are white, having dark skin isn’t beautiful. Mulatto characters who were supposed to be black and white, are almost always portrayed by white women. Ads for black women instructed them how to lighten their skin.
The fifth stereotype, focused primarily on black women in media, and that is with the American figure”Old Aunt Jemima. The following clip gives a historical understanding of the idea behind Aunt Jemima. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ipamH6EEwI
Aunt Jemima came from a skit of a southern mammy named Aunt Jemima. Chris Rutt attended this skit in 1880 and decided she would be a great for advertising his pancake mix. Nancy Green was hired to be the first Aunt Jemima, she was a slave born in 1834, and died in 1923. This brand created a black stereotype for women, they are portrayed as plumb, wearing a bandana and apron. Aunt Jemima is portrayed in cinema such as Gone With the Wind, and White Christmas, as the main slave for the house, who cooked and sometimes gave advice. Aunt Jemima is also portrayed as the character Mammy, who is obese, a motherly figure, and loves the white family she is working for. There is fictional Mammies, such as Gone With the Wind, and commercial Mammies such as Aunt Jemima. This image portrayed by media shaped how society thinks of black women, it stereotyped all female black mothers into a character who is overweight, happy, loving, and her job in life is too cook, clean, and take care of the children.
All of these stereotypes took decades to break, these ideas towards African Americans in media are burned into society minds. Historians such as Sasha Torres, Jannette L. Dates, and William Barlow, argue the following, “The history of African American mass-mediated representation, then, is the history of a “split image,” in which “the dominant trend in African American portraiture has been created and nurtured by succeeding generations of white image makers beginning as far back as the colonial era.” These five stereotypes are the main media images of African Americans in the late 1800’s and 1900s, and some still last today.
Torres, Sasha. Black, White, and in Color: Television and Black Civil Rights. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.