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Black History Minute Monday: Blacks In The Media

Vivien Leigh & Hattie McDaniel (pictured left) a.k.a "Mammy"
a.k.a. an AKA in real life.

"Dr. [George Washington] Carver died penniless and insane, still trying to play a phonograph record with a peanut. This has been 'Black History Minute.'"
- Professor Shabazz K. Morton a.k.a. Eddie Murphy

This is my last Black History Minute Monday post for Black History Month, but I'm thinking about making it a permanent installment on this blog.

It's definitely going to be longer than a minute. Last week while throwing away trash in my storage closet, I stumbled upon a great find: a term paper I wrote my junior year at Cornell --- a long time ago --- for a class taught by William Branch, one of the most entertaining professors I've ever had and known. I don't remember the exact title of the course, but it went something like, Blacks and the Media: Stereotypes, Etc., Etc. The following is an adaptation of the introduction of my paper. Given last week's media fiasco involving the New York Post (I will not provide a link). What I wrote then is just as relevant now as it was back then.

African Americans made their way into the forefront of American life in the 1900's via the medium of film. However, this was not a momentous moment for this group of people. In fact, they were not shown in a light that was true to their actual way of life and status in the post Civil War era. Instead, they were "displayed" in situations where their actions were over-exaggerated, or executed in some ridicule of their fashion, speech and cultural activities, such as dance. This was done in order to invoke humor amongst the status quo and to insult and keep down the integrity and identity of African Americans. There were five basic classifications of African Americans that were established and in many cases still exist today whether subtly or blatantly in the media. They are:
  1. The Tom: A "good" negro that was socially acceptable. He was faithful and happy no matter what trials he encountered.
  2. The Coon: The black idiot. There were two categories of coons: the pickaninny and the Uncle Remus.
  3. The Mulatto: The person of mixed racial inheritance. Their life is a tragedy because they have to miss out on the promise of white life due to the black blood in their veins.
  4. The Mammy: The woman of no sex. She is ugly, big and fat, and has no sex appeal whatsoever. She has an attitude brought about by her independence. She usually is a servant in "Massa's" house.
  5. The Brutal Buck: The Negro savage. This is the man who had the ravenous fires of the jungle still inside him. His is big and virile. He displays violence more than any other attribute.

Although the producers of this clip define racism in very crass terms, take note: the studios behind most of the clips are the same studios that make the movies we all patronize today.

The Brutal Buck was the opposite of the coon. Where the coon was "good" and harmless, the buck was bad. He was the common field slave. Upon the conclusion of the Civil War this man posed a "threat" to white life. There was no longer cheap labor to til the fields, the white man indoctrinated himself with the fear that this former slave might avenge himself and his people for the burdens of slavery. Interestingly, they feared for their women, rather boldly assuming that the Buck desired the pristine, "virginal" white woman. Along with the popular stereotypes already held by the status quo that African Americans were stupid beasts of burden, this new prejudice rounded out the classification of the African American man being considered, by and large, a Brutal Black Buck who was violent and must be controlled with violence.
Does any of this sound even remotely familiar today? I'll leave it up to you to think about it. You should also add the Mystic Negro/Magic Negro to this list, like Michael Clarke Duncan's character in The Green Mile and the Magic Negro, or Will Smith's Bagger Vance.

What about the scientists, the inventors, the clergymen, and the politicians? What about them? Obama is the President of the United States, but a young black football star from Mississippi who just happened to be dating a white girl apparently accidentally blew his own head off during a traffic stop.

I believe the year is 2009. But do we really know this in all corners of this great United States of America?

This is not my daughter. Is she anyone's daughter?

It's time to clean up and stand up. If no one is around when a tree falls, does it truly make a sound? The NY Post has never portrayed anyone of color in any positive light, not even athletes. This one's a no-brainer. If you disagree with their ethics, then don't patronize them. Period. The media's power lies only in our consumption of it.

Happy Black History Month. Know from whence you came to know where you should be going.Never let anyone, no matter your ethnicity, color or creed, define or limit you. This applies not only to African Americans, but all of America.


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