1) Look at the images above: Pick one of them (menacing savage/brute; the happy smiling black mammy; the hyper-sexualized black male or female, the angry black woman, the sambo baby, etc.
2) From where do you think that stereotyped image came? What time period did they start? Don’t worry if you don’t know for sure — try to make an educated guess.
3) For what specific purpose do you think those images were created? Or is there even a purpose? Why/why not?
4) Why do you think they became so popular and enjoyed by people who used them and/or (continue) to use them?
5) How did you first learn about that stereotype that you chose in #1?
6) How have you seen that stereotyped image circulating today if at all? If not, are there other types of racist iconography or photos you’ve seen in our modern context? Describe in detail. Copy and paste a picture or example. If you believe that stereotype has been eradicated, explain why you think it has left our society?
ETHNIC NOTIONS FILM VIEWING GUIDE
Directions: Fill in this worksheet as you watch the film. (Transcript is attached in pdf at the bottom)
You are required to turn this in for this assignment: As you view the film, take notes on the following 19th century stereotypes about African-Americans. What are the qualities of each stereotype and to whom do they apply? As you watch, listen to the documentary analyze each of the following stereotypical characters.
You’ll be discussing two off them in Step III of this worksheet.
Black Rambo type
1. How were enslaved Black people portrayed for White audiences? What kinds of specific characters were used in popular American culture?
2. How were freed Blacks in the North portrayed? (Which caricature was used to describe them?
3. Which stereotypical images were used to justify racial violence against Blacks during the Reconstruction period (after slavery was abolished)? ___________. How does the documentary explain why these images were used in this period: ________________________________________.
4. Which stereotypes were used to portray Black people as savages or unworthy of freedom and also helped those with White supremacist ideals structure their feelings of nostalgia for the days when enslaved people were “more grateful?” ________________ How does the documentary explain why these images were used in this period:
5. Which were the prevailing stereotypes and caricatures used to portray Black people during the Civil Rights era? ________________. How does the documentary explain why these images were used in this period:
6. How did businesses profit from these social stereotypes? Give an example from the documentary. 7. How did cartoons circulate racial caricatures? Give an example from the documentary.
8. How did these racial stereotypes contribute to a system of oppression and inequality?
9. Why did people, including some African-Americans, start to believe that African-Americans fit these social stereotypes?
Step 3: Now look at the list of stereotyped caricatures at top of this worksheet. Choose two that you think have had the most long-lasting impact in this country and discuss how and why. Your response should be about one paragraph long.
Step 4: Write a short analysis of 350-500 words in which you reflect on your experience of watching this film and how it might have dispelled what you thought you knew about these caricatures. You can consider using these prompts to help you with this section:
A is for Aunty, the oldest there are. She rocks us children to sleep in her shawl. D is for Daniel, who tends to the door. He took care
of Master way back before the war. F is for Felix, who won’t do no work. He’s lazy and shiftless and ready to shirk. Z is for Zonia,
chunky and small, but here comes the Misses, so I guess this is them all.
Listen Mammy, that ain’t no way to wash clothes. What you all need is rhythm.
What do you all mean, rhythm?
Ha ha, I’ll show you what I mean.
The Mammy, the Pickaninny, the Coon, the Sambo, the Uncle. Well into the middle of the 20th century, these were some of the
most popular depictions of black Americans.
Rub-le-ub-dub. She rubs and rubs her knucks right on down to the nub, yeah.
By 1941, when this cartoon was made, images like these permeated American culture. These were the images that decorated our
homes, that served, and amused, and made us laugh. Taken for granted, they worked their way into the mainstream of American
life. Of ethnic caricatures in America, these have been the most enduring.
Today, there’s little doubt that these images shape the most gut level feelings about race.
When you see hundreds of them in all parts of the country persisting over a very long period of time, they have to have been
there. They obviously appeal to people. They appeal to the creator, but they appeal also to the consumers, those who look at the
cartoons, or read the novels, or buy the artifacts.
It’s not just that it’s in the figurines and in the coffee pots and so on, it is that we are seen that way, perceived that way, even in
terms of public policy, and that our lives are lived under that shadow. And sometimes we then even become to believe it ourselves.
Blacks don’t really look like that, so why is it so appealing for people to think that they look like that, and to pretend they look like
that, and to like to look at icons that look like that? You look at them often enough, and black people begin to look like that, even
though they don’t. So that they’ve had a great impact on our society.
They therefore tell us both about the inner desires of the people who create and consume them, and also they tell us about some
of the forces that shape reality for large portions of our population.
Well now, children. Tonight, old Uncle Tom is going to tell you the real true story about Uncle Ton’s cabin.
Contained in these cultural images is the history of our national conscience. A conscience striving to reconcile the paradox of
racism in a nation founded on human equality, a conscience coping with this profound contradiction through caricature. What were
the consequences of these caricatures? How did they mold and mirror the reality of racial tensions in America for more than 100
I got a hat on my head, shoes on my feet, so what need I care? For I’m the luckiest coon in this town. [LAUGHTER]
In the early 1900s, images and songs portrayed a simple, docile laughing black man, the Sambo. This image became one of the
classic portrayals of black men in film. Carefree and irresponsible, the Sambo was picked to avoid work while reveling in the easy
pleasures of food, dance, and song. His life was one of childlike contentment.
Dog gonnit, can’t a boy go to town? Listen here.
Come away from that old box.
Well, can’t I be happy because I got a ear for music?
Yeah, that’s all there is for you is an ear for music and a mouth for pork chops. You better get a desire for work.
The happy Sambo began his stage life in the late 1820s when a man named T.D. Rice brought a new sensation to American
theater. Rice was known as an Ethiopian Delineator, a white comedian who performed in black face. The name of his routine would
later become the symbol of segregation in the South.
The Jim Crow was a dance that started on the plantations as a result of dancing being outlawed in 1690. Dancing was said to be
crossing your feet by the church, and so the slaves created a way of shuffling and sliding to safely glide around the laws without
crossing their feet.
The slaves had a saying for their cunning in skirting the law.
Wheel about, and turn about, and jump just so. Every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow.
According to legend, T.D. Rice saw a crippled black man dancing an exaggerated Jim Crow dance. Rice took the man’s tattered
clothes, and that night, imitated him on stage.
It was an instant success, and America loved it. And a bevy of imitators came about. Literally hundreds of men tore up their
clothes, discarded their perfect dialects of the black man, and began to do this exaggerated character dance which became known
as the Jim Crow character.
And so here we have Jim Crow, T.D. Rice, taking a dance which was altered by a law from a man who was crippled, and
exaggerating it again. And he had no intention of presenting truth. But what was bought by the majority of people in Ohio, and in
the Louisiana Territory, and then along the Erie Canal, was that this was a true image, and it was a devastating image.
People in small towns who had never seen blacks and suddenly saw Rice bought that as a black image.
In 1843, a group of black face performers joined together to form a single troupe. Instead of delineators, they called themselves
minstrels. The minstrel show captivated broad audiences mostly in the North, and emerged as America’s first form of national
popular entertainment. Like movies today, successful minstrels played to the tastes and values of their audiences.
Jim Crow, reflecting popular demand, evolved into the singing, dancing Sambo. This light hearted figure became one of the most
potent forces in the politics of slavery.
The minstrelry era really took off at the same time that the abolitionist movement took off. As there were people working to end
slavery, people working to eradicate slavery, there were also people increasing the exaggerated portrayals that we find in the
Minstrel caricatures mirrored the prevailing belief that slavery was good for the slave since it drew upon his natural inferiority and
willingness to serve. Slaves were content. The proof was offered in the image of the happy Sambo.
The old plantation was presented as a kind of paradise. White Americans were being constantly bombarded with the image of
happy slaves is what it amounted to. So slavery must be a good institution if the slaves were happy and the masters were kindly.
And so that whole cultural image of a benign or beneficent institution was projected constantly in the period immediately before
the Civil War.
So blessed with moderate work, with ample fair, with all the good the starving pauper needs. To happier slave on each plantation
I am quite sure they never could become a happier people than I find them here. No tribe of people have ever passed from
barbarism to civilization whose progress has been more secure from harm, more genial to their character, or better adapted to
their intellectual feebleness than the negroes.
Oh hand your banjo down to play.
You’ll make it ring both night and day.
We care not what the white folks say.
They can’t get us to run away. He he he he. Ha ha ha.
Time and again, these sentiments were expressed in the popular songs and novels before the Civil War. For many Americans,
North and South, the myth of Sambo resolved both the moral and political conflict of allowing slavery in a free society.
On the one hand, whites like to think of their blacks as Sambos in the Antebellum period, but they could never have operated
plantations with Sambos, and they knew that.
The slavery debate grew more heated as the Civil War approached. Minstrels, playing to conservative sentiment, turned their
attention to free blacks in the North, and a new character appeared beside the southern Sambo. Zip Coon.
Transcendentalism us that that that sp-sp spiritual c-c-cognizance of-a uh, uh the psychological uh, uh–
A dandy and I buffoon, Zip Coons attempts to imitate whites marked the notion of racial equality. Together, Zip Coon and Sambo
provided a double edged defense of slavery. Zip Coon, proof of blacks’ ludicrous failure to adapt to freedom, and Sambo, the
fantasy of happy darkies in their proper place.
(SINGING) I got to take down the judge’s clothes. I Got to take them in the house. Yes, Lord. Got to get out that old ironing board.
Fix them up for the judge to wear.
When this film was released in 1934, the black mammy had become such a stable figure in portraits of the old South, it was hard
to imaging a southern home without her.
Praise the Lord Mr. Loom. Is you here, or is you ain’t?
Hi Aunt Dillsie.
How come you’re here?
Like the Happy Sambo, the Mammy emerged as a defense of slavery. Plantation novels and minstrel shows presented her as fat,
pitch black, and happily obedient to her master and mistress.
You stay here. Us is going to kill the high steppinest rooster in the yard, and a great big bowl of milk gravy and grits.
Don’t you worry nothing honey, you’s home now. (SINGING) Mr. Loom’s home. Mr. Loom’s home. Mr. Loom’s home.
She was always presented as docile, loyal, protective of the white house and the big house, an indication that she understood the
value of the society. She’s presented almost as an antithesis of the white lady, and the person who does not have the qualities of
fragility and beauty which would make her valued in the society.
With her hair hidden beneath a bandanna, her ample weight, dark skin, and course manners, the Mammy was stripped of sexual
allure. Faithfully, she served the master’s household in popular fiction and theatre, but here, her presence never evoked sexual
If the Mammy were to be a sexual being, which of course in reality she was, but if she were to be that in myth and in fiction and so
on, she would become a threat to the mistress of the house. She would become a threat to the entire system, because she would
then be capable of being desired by the master of the house.
We know from reading the diaries and the letters of slave mistresses that this is very often the case, and created much disruption,
much friction, in this supposedly happy plantation system that the planters wanted for good project.
(SINGING) A brand new red bandana around Mammy’s head.
(SINGING) You couldn’t miss the colors cause it surely am red.
(TOGETHER) Come on and shake your feet, oh honey shake your feet. To old Mammy Jilly’s jig.
While happy in her subservience to whites, the Mammy was portrayed quite differently in relations with her own family.
In your usual set up in American society, the person who controls is the male. The Mammy is presented as the controller. We are
indicating quote unquote how inferior we are. That men are weak and women are strong. The very opposite of the way it’s
supposed to be according to the societal norms. So the Mammy strikes at two important concepts of gender in Antebellum society.
She is strong, asexual, and ugly, when a woman is supposed to be beautiful, fragile, dependent. She is a controller of her own
people, of the males in her own society when the female should be dependent and subordinate. And indication clearly that black
people can’t make it.
Freedom brought hope to black Americans. Millions of emancipated slaves were inspired by the promise of equality, but this
promise was betrayed.
Those who wanted to reestablish firm white control and wanted to maintain white supremacy by any means possible used the
argument that what had happened was that blacks, no longer under the benign, or beneficent, or kindly guidance of whites, were
reverting to savagery.
Political debate manipulated public fears about the so-called black menace. Old stereotypes were adapted to the new politics.
Increasingly, blacks were identified as brutes.
The states and people that favor this equality and amalgamation of the white and black races, God will exterminate. A man cannot
commit so great an offense against his race, against his country, against his God, as to give his daughter in marriage to a negro– a
This climate of racial hysteria was seen in every aspect of popular culture.
The best example of this was in the writings of Thomas Dixon in his novel The Clansman, which then later became a hit Broadway
play, and was finally adapted as the most successful of early American motion pictures, The Birth of a Nation.
Described by President Woodrow Wilson as history writ enlightening, Birth Of A Nation captured on film the classic caricature of
blacks following reconstruction. Here, emancipation was viewed as a tragic mistake. It had ended slavery and let loose blacks’
Brute negroes played by whites in blackface pursued white virgins. These images were guaranteed to incite racial violence, but
more, they justified it.
Earlier, we wouldn’t have gotten an image of a brute negro, because this wouldn’t have helped in the defense of slavery. To
suggest earlier too much that there were people who were very, very rebellious would have suggested that the blacks wanted to
The image that they needed was that the blacks were docile in antebellum times. During reconstruction, the black is a challenge to
the political system, and they have to not only then try to justify maybe a reason for going back to slavery, but they also are
justifying their reasons for killing the blacks. Because they’re saying that the blacks are an offense to civilization.
These beings must be controlled, is what the mythology is telling us. And at the same time, in a very clever way, I think because
the planters also wanted to soothe people. Wanted to make sure that they believed that their society could continue.
They hearkened back to the good old days. The good old days when everybody’s happy. To happy darkie. A way of saying, let’s go
back to those times. Remember those good old times when?
(SINGING) Oh, there was an old darkie, and they called him Uncle Ned. But he died long ago, long ago. And he had no wool on the
top of his head in the place where the wool ought to grow. Then lay down the shovel and a hoe, and hang up the fiddle and the
bow. No more hard work for poor Ned. He’s gone where the good darkies go.
The older generation were the faithful retainers of the slave era. And the newer generation, however, was out of control. The
blacks who had grown up in the period since the Civil War, and had never known the domesticating influence of slavery.
So you have this two pronged attack on blacks. On one hand, they’re reduced to servile, harmless singing darkies of the good old
times before the Civil War, what we really want to go back to. And you have an attack on supposedly what they’ve become now.
Vicious, brutal. Aggressive, violent.
America at the turn of the century experienced unprecedented race hatred. Violence, Jim Crow segregation, mob terror became
acceptable methods of social control. And always to justify such atrocity was the excuse of the animalistic black brute.
Brute caricatures of black children, or pickaninnies, as they were once called, showed them as victims. Victims who evoked not
sympathy, but the feeling that blacks were subhuman.
They were always on the river, on the ground, in a tree. Partially clad, dirty, their hair unkempt. This suggests that there was a
need to imagine black children as animal like, as savage.
If you do that, if you make that step and say that these children are really like little furry animals, then it’s much easier to justify
the threat that’s embodied in having an alligator pursuing the child.
Seven little niggers playing tag with bricks. One was it most all the time, then there was but six.
One by one, black children disappeared, targets of c violence. The symbolism in these images was revealing.
Five little niggers playing there was war.
Material objects tell us that there was still a segment of the population at large that was very uncomfortable with the black
presence in the new world, and needed to get rid of them. Artistically rendering a way of removing blacks so that there’s nothing
One little nigger in the scorching sun. Soon there was the smell of smoke, and then there was none.
As America crossed into the 20th century, these images very inherited by vaudeville and motion pictures. The forms were new, but
the content was unchanged. In the minstrel tradition, black roles in firm were still played by whites in blackface. When blacks
finally began to play themselves, they faced a tragic dilemma.
By the time blacks came to the minstrel stage, they had to perform in blackface. And so you had black men darkening their
already dark skin with soot and widening their mouths, and portraying themselves. Rubin Crowder was a black man from the
Midwest, who by the time he came to the minstrel stage, had to take an Irish name.
Because most minstrels Irishmen performing black characters. What you have here is a weird warping of the American fabric.
When a black man takes an Irish name and then impersonates the impersonator impersonating himself.
So anybody who was black and who wanted to get on the theater would do it like Pick and Pat, or Molasses and January. Do what
they do. Don’t come telling me you can do Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poetry, or James Weldon Johnson’s poetry. Or Georgie Douglas
Johnson’s poetry. No, nobody wants that. Give me a coon song. And one of these jokes.
These black actors perceived the minstrel stage as a doorway. A doorway out of hunger, a doorway out of the South, a doorway to
other opportunities. So we have an irony, or a catch-22, as the term goes. Where we have the evolution of a people into a
theatrical work force at the same time that we have a perpetuation of a stereotype.
Against a broad spectrum of time worn caricatures, the reality of black life in the early 1900s was undergoing dramatic change. In
growing numbers, blacks were moving from the country to the city. From the South to the North. Emancipation had disrupted the
social order of the South.
Now black migration and competition for jobs threatened the status quo of the North. Racial hostilities began to brew. New
caricatures of the urban coon emerged, reflecting the perceived threat of an expanding back labor force.
Yow! Lay your money where your mouth is. Come on and shoot. Yow!
Wait a minute, yo. Wait a minute. Where did you get them red bones at? What kind of dice is these?
Don’t start no argument now. Uhoh, cop, cop. Beat it, beat it.
Dice. Gambling. And a pension for razor blades became trademarks of these urban caricatures. It was a variation on the old theme.
Blacks could be childishly entertaining, and at once vicious brutes. The difference was in the instruments of amusement and
Now, I don’t suppose for a minute that any of you coons has got a razor.
By the way, captain, can I join the Army, too?
Certainly. Report with James.
Well if I join the Army, can we use our razors in this war? That’s it, that’s it, captain. Can we use our razors?
Well, I don’t know. I’ll see about it. Giddy up.
(SINGING) If they let us use our razors in this war, we’ll certainly carve them Germans to the core.
Indeed we will.
We ain’t no advertisers, but there won’t be no doggone Kaisers if they let us use our razors in this war.
I think World War I was a watershed for blacks. A lot of blacks went into that war with great hopes. They had been told for so long
that if they played the game by the rules, that if they showed the white society what they were all about. If they made it up the hill
by their own bootstraps, society would say hey, welcome, join.
But the service and self esteem of black war veterans was undercut with caricature. Symbolically, these images reinforced white
supremacy by fitting blacks within acceptable roles as servants and entertainers.
The reality of black servicemen who now bore arms and demanded the freedom and opportunity at home they had fought for
abroad, this reality inflamed many whites. Race riots swept the North each summer from 1919 to 1921. It was a period of overt
and casual racism.
It was perfectly polite for whites in the North, educated college types to write in high tone journals like Harper’s and The Atlantic,
and Scribner’s, to use words like nigger and coon, and darkie.
Within these distorted molds of black behavior, black entertainers necessarily had to fit to an acceptance from mainstream
audiences. Over time, black performers brought elements of humanity to the caricatures.
Still, popular entertainment remained double edged in its rewards, creating personal suffering and a cultural stigma as the price of
success. Perhaps no more poignant example exists than in the life of Bert Williams.
A tall, dignified man who spoke precise English, Bert Williams stooped his shoulders and learned to talk in the minstrel limitation of
black speech. With the final touch of blackface, he became America’s preeminent blackface artist.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I mean, I have heard all the rumors myself. It seems that this blackface makeup, my white gloves
and my comic gait ain’t the only thing I’m becoming famous for. Or is it infamous?
I have been trying to finish Bert’s show for him. And my eulogy to Bert will be to finish the finale on his life by elevating him to the
class of a folk artist, and a folk hero that I think that he deserves.
Well now, you take last night for example. I had just finished my show, and I was about to step out for my evening constitution
when I came upon what appeared to be a perfectly delightful watering hole. So I stepped up to the bar, and I asked the man for a
bourbon. Well, the fella didn’t take too kindly to serving a negro.
And so to impress his friends, he said that will be $50. Hell, I didn’t bat an eye. I just stepped up to the bar, reached down in my
pocket, whipped out a $500 bill, and said, I’ll take 10. You know, it ain’t really that funny.
I mean, every critic in town agrees that I am at the height of my career. Ziegfield pays me $6,500 a week here at the Follies, and
that’s top pay. But do I get top billing? Hell, I can play before the crown heads of Europe, but I can’t even get a drink in my
You know, they got this rule at the Press Club that says a black man can’t even into without a white host who is willing to sign that
he’ll be responsible for the black man’s actions. Ain’t I a responsible human being? There ain’t a night that passes that somebody
don’t knock on that door and invite me over to the Press Club for a drink.
Well in case you didn’t remember, buddy, this ain’t exactly my regular skin tone, and it takes considerably longer to remove
blackface than you can imagine. So unless somebody waits around, I’ll wait around. That’s right. I’ll wait around outside the Press
Club, just shifting my way from one foot to the next until somebody comes by and escorts me in.
All the time I’m just hoping and praying that nobody comes out and mistakes me for the doorman and tips me a quarter. You know,
it’s no disgrace being a black man. But it’s terribly inconvenient.
Toward the end of his life, Bert Williams managed to remove most of the offensively racist material from his routines. But long after
his death, the blackface tradition continued, its dark mask now transferred to talking movies.
I am privileged to say a few words to you in this most modern and novel manner. Privileged because it’s the first living xylophone
announcement ever made, announcing the coming of one of the year’s outstanding pictures. What is a picture?
Well, of course you’ve guessed that I’m referring to Warner Brothers’ supreme triumph, Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.
When Al Jolsen made his film debut in The Jazz Singer, Hollywood had emerged as the dominant force in popular entertainment. By
1927, more than 26 million Americans were going to the movies each week. What they saw reaffirmed the tradition of blackface
entertainment that had prevailed since slavery.
Why should hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions over the years, of white people in all parts of the country have gone to
theaters and watched white men pretend they were blacks? I think in part what they were watching was more complicated than
merely whites masking themselves as blacks. They were watching whites release themselves as blacks.
(SINGING) Mammy. Mammy.
Suddenly these whites who were just like them could dance and sing, show emotions openly, and cry and laugh. I think there was
a kind of cathartic about this. And I think blacks have played that role in this society. They have been a kind of surrogate.
(SINGING) Mammy. I’m coming. Oh, God. I hope I’m not late. Mammy, don’t you know me? It’s your little baby. I’d walk a million
miles for one of your smiles. For my Ma-Mammy!
From the ’20s through World War II, blackface permeated motion pictures. When this mask was abandoned, its imprint still warped
film images of blacks, even when blacks played themselves.
Take this dime, now, and hurry on back to town, and get me that beef liver.
Hurry up, now.
All right. All right. Actually running now. You gonna put your shoes on?
I’m gonna save them in case my feet wear out. And then I’ll have them.
Of all media, cartoons provided the best form of racial caricature. In this fantasy world, physical distortion and violence were
Before you die, you can make one last wish.
Yeah? Well, uh, let’s see now. Um, I wish, I wish, (SINGING) I wish I was in Dixie, hurray! Hurray!
Fantastic, isn’t it?
Together songs, books like Little Black Sambo, and moving pictures captivated the young. But more, they shaped impressionable
minds to view stereotypes as not only acceptable, but funny.
And big black Jumbo, coming home from his work with a brass kettle under his arm for black Mumbo saw what was left of the tigers
and said, what elegant melted butter. And when black Mumbo saw the melted butter, she said, now we’ll all have pancakes for
I’m little black Sambo, and it’s my birthday. And I’m gonna eat 169 pancakes.
Businesses, too, profited from the public’s affection for these images. Pancakes, beans, syrup, tobacco, oysters. Blacks appeared
on these and more in product labels and household knick-knacks.
The cumulative effect of these images produced over and over again, seen over and over again, images that are notions in the
home, merely amusing notions, become really destructive stereotypes. Notions of the mind.
How did these images shape enduring attitudes toward black culture, behavior, appearance?
Her cheek, her chin, her neck, her nose. This was a lily, that was a rose. Her bosom sleek as Paris plaster, her up two bowls of
This was the standard of beauty once heralded in America, a standard inherited from Europe. Against this image of perfection,
Africans and African Americans were compared.
Historically, these images reinforce the psychology that black is ugly. To be natural, or to be yourself, or be the way you were
presented in this world is ugly.
My lips don’t look like large pieces of liver. My eyes aren’t snow white, or bulging in a frightening appearance. I wear my hair
natural, but it isn’t standing all over my head as though I’m wearing a fright wig. A total distortion of the black image.
In these images, a subliminal message is clear. We can see how the portrayal of distinctive physical features of blacks become not
only laughable, but grotesque.
Cartoons like this popularized the belief that black Americans had descended from savages.
To use the 19th century cliche, which prevailed almost up to our own time, Africa was the dark continent. It was the place where
civilization had made the least progress. Indeed, it was the center of anti-civilization, or primitivism of all kinds.
According to myth, slavery, then segregation had managed to domesticate black Americans. But without white control, blacks
reverted to savagery. In the 1920s and ’30s, the savage stereotype acquired a new dimension.
Look here, white man. I comes and I goes, and that’s my business.
Not afraid to stand right up to your betters and tell them what’s what?
There was a lot of talk about the new Negro during the 1920s. Of blacks being able to assert their manhood, their independence.
But at the same time, there was a strain of the older ideas that persisted. The idea of reversion to savagery, except that savagery
was now redefined.
Fire again. Empty your guns. Don’t you all know I’ve got a charm? Takes a silver bullet to kill Brutus Jones.
A very good example of this would be The Emperor Jones. The sort of notion that if blacks were true to themselves, they would be
noble savages, perhaps, but still savages. So again, you’re dealing with a stereotype, except you’re taking the stereotype of the
black savage, and you’re kind of giving it a more positive evaluation.
Oh, Lord, Lord. Yes!
The more comforting images of the mammy, Sambo, and uncle posed no threat. Happily, they entertained and served. Through
this romantic fantasy, generations of Americans from the Civil War to this day escaped concern or responsibility for racism.
From way down South in Dixie, where dancing is a …