Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Images of Race

Hi, class! I'm sorry I can't be there with you; I have an appointment with a surgeon, and this is the only time he can see me. Please use the first 15 minutes of class to have an impromptu discussion on Ethnic Notions. Here are some questions to get you started, but of course, feel free to pose your own questions and comments as well:

1. What are your big "take-aways" from the documentary?
2. What do you have questions about?
3. What images/stereotypes shown in this documentary are still present today?

78 comments:

hannahl said...

I think it is interesting how shocked everybody becomes over the racial images of this documentary, because truthfully we see it constantly in modern culture. These days, we no longer have the Sambo, but we do have the gangster/rapper stereotype. How important to the racial gaps of today do you think this stereotype is?

catem said...

I think that the characters from the book are racist, but only because that was the way that they were brought up. I don't think that Mark Twain is racist, I think he is trying to make the point of how stupid racism is.

lizc said...

I didn't like the voice of the woman talking in the documentary at all. It was as if they purposely made it that way to creep people out. Also, it made me sad how people thought that blacks were actually like Zip Coon and the other characters becasue they had never seen on before.

melissaz said...

I thought the documentary was extremely powerful and did a great job of displaying the rascism of that time. Although we have always learned about racism, this video painted a clear picture on how it effected the lives of everyone.

mollyd said...

One thing I learned from the documentary was the different ways african americans were portrayed. I never knew there were so many different and harsh interpretations of them.

amyw said...

I was surprised at the extent of racism shown in the documentary. I mean, of course I knew there was racism, but I didn't know it found its way that far into popular culture---movies, drawings, even performances (Zip Coon). I found it shocking how the stereotypes of Sambo and Jim Crow could justify slavery because of their supposed "happiness."

whitneys said...

I think Twain's characters are definately racist. They are beyond prejudice and he shows this by the fact that Roxy is 1/16 negro, yet that little part makes her a slave. Also he highlights this racism in the way "Tom" treats "Chambers" as his slave when he looks ecaxtly like him and could pass for his brother. Yet, because "Chambers" is a mere 1/32 negro, then he is a negro and a slave.

ParkerH said...

I suppose this is a take away, but I kind of knew this already. Anyways, my point is that prejudice in any form, including racism, sucks. That wasn't very elegantly stated, but hey, it gets the point across.

Ryad said...

What was most surprising to me was that the immitations and lies of different races was the only thing that some people had ever seen or known about them. We had talked be for about how we couldn't imagine not feeling bad about the way black people were treated, but after watching this video it's not so hard for me to understand anymore.

meganu said...

hannahl - I think you brought up a really good point. People do have these major stereotypes today, no matter what their race is. However, I think nowadays people strive to be stereotyped like that, they want to fit in with the people they're stereotyped with. The characters in the book and on the documentary weren't like that.

alexf said...

Well, I’m not too sure whether we are supposed to talk about if Twain’s characters are racist or not, but that’s what I’m going for.
I don’t think that his characters are racist because there is absolutely no race involved. The narrator even said that one wouldn’t be able to tell that Roxy or Chambers was black or not. Because of this, I don’t think that they are racist, rather, prejudiced. I think that because they are considered lower (by society), the characters are prejudice and believe that they are better than the “black” characters. Anyone oppose?

KiraW said...

I thought that the documentary was really quite disturbing. It is amazing how horrible people could be to one another. And it wasn’t even seen as unnatural. It was the norm. Do you think that there are any things in society that we think as totally natural and 30 years from now, other honors American literature students are going to be looking back at like “oh my goodness! I can’t believe they did that!”

amyw said...

@hannahl---I agree; we do have that stereotype. I think it's pretty important because it does what a stereotype is best at: colors everyone's thinking and seeps into their minds.

MattN said...

I really thought that the steroetype from the Puud'n Head Wilson that is still in America today is the prejudice against southern white males. Throughout the book Twain continuosly bashes the stupidity of the the white male slave owner. Like how at the start of the book when it takes six hicks just to figure out that Wilson didn't actually want half of the dog, I believe he was just making fun of the ignorance of the people who rule over their own race.

morgant said...

Liz- I didn't like the woman's voice either! The speakers in the video and the images were all kind of creepy if you ask me, but the woman's voice definitely added an aspect that was kind of weird.

whitneys said...

catem - I agree with you on the fact that Twain is not racist because he completely satirizes the racism by making Roxy look like a completely normal white woman.

catem said...

I agree with Hannah, even though the stereotypes that the documentary brought up were disturbing, we still have almost equally disturbing stereotypes today. The stereotypes just give people an excuse to treat people who are different poorly.

melissaz said...

Hannah- That is a great point I had not thought of. Although our stereotypes my not be geared towards all of the African Americans, today we still have plenty of other stereotypes. Each person has their own ideas and thoughts towards other groups of people, without even knowing them.

hannahl said...

The 'Pica ninnies' were especially disturbing because of the fact that racists were targeting children, and turning them into savage animals/aliens. This helped the whites to justify slavery by pretending that blacks were a different species.

lizc said...

WhitneyS- I partially agree with you that Twain was completely racist. However he could also be using Roxy to proove how rediculous that idea was to the society that would read the book. Mostly though, he does seem a bit off colored when it comes to different races and that also shows in his other works.

morganw said...

I was not shocked at how ridiculous the stereotypes of african americans were, but I was shocked that everybody believed them. I mean, they were so fantastical that you would think that anybody with half a brain would have at least question the validity of such racial extremes, but eerybody simply accepted it. It was disgusting that they accepted it that easily.

EmilyJ said...

I was surpsised at how racist the documentary portrayed society. It wasn't that the film was racist, it was evrything they described from earlier society. Blacks were seen as much lower than whites, and they were not respected for the most part in that culture. They almost developed their own society, completely spearate from whites, with their own rules, own traditions, and own beliefs.

maddief said...

Well, first of all the racist slurs and images sickened me. They were like caricatures gone wrong. However, I can understand the usefulness of these prejudices for whites trying to keep blacks at the bottom of society. By mocking them and causing a fear of them, whites effectively prevented blacks from being allowed to integrate into a life of freedom for many years. Like it said in the documentary, people who had never spent time around African Americans actually bought the story that they were barbarians and brutes. The images that disturbed me the most though were the ones of the African American children being threatened by alligators. I can't imagine any adult who would find such a picture humorous, and yet that was considered comical at some point in history. I agree with Mark Twain, humans really can be a terrible species.

roser said...

hannah-I agree, I don't think Ethnic Notions was too shocking because slowly those racist images are already apparent to us...like how some modern rappers seem to be like an updated version of Sambo or Zip

whitneys said...

mollyd - I know! I was shocked and disturbed by how they were portrayed so horribly and like dumb buffoons. I really never knew cartoons like that existed.

Oliviak said...

The big take aways from the movie were that white people would create images and imitate blacks so they would be able to instill in people’s heads that what they were doing was right. They were just trying to justify slavery.
Did blacks see all the imitations and truly believe that they belonged on a plantation?
Did they feel that they were better off on a plantation then somewhere else?

amyw said...

I agree with everyone who was creeped out by the woman's voice. I think it was on purpose...I have no idea why though.

KateP said...

Even thought I know how African Americans were treated back then, I found it surprsinsing how they protrayed them in the pictures. They showed the children as being very dirty and tried to compare them to animals, which is very sad. I think that some of the racial images still exsist today though.

rachels said...

I can't decide wether or not I think mark twain is a racist. I can see him being a racist because it seems hard to fake so well but it is satirical writting. I think his characters are racist for sure but I can't deside wether or not he is. This book makes me wonder that if we were raised to be racist would we be? It's kind of a scary thought!

lizc said...

Hannahl- I have to say that the Pica Ninnies were probably the most disturbing for me because I found it so sad that they would make fun of children. I don't think of any child as an animal or threat to people's life and that was unjustly cruel for someone to do that.

alexf said...

MeganU~
Hmmm, you make a really good point! But what about those people today who don’t want to conform and become like the stereotypes? What happens to them? Can they ever avoid it or do they not have a choice?

MattN said...

alexf: I totally disagree. I think that the notion of roxy only being 1/16 black is the whole point of this story!! He is explaining that even though she could look like the wife of her owner, because somewhere along the line her mother married a black man, she is damned for life! And when tom starts stabbing chambers, i think its just cause anger for him. His race!

delaney n said...

In Ethnic Notions, I was shocked by the willingness of African Americans. To me, it seemed that the slaves were just obliging to whatever their masters wished of them. I was also surprised by the black actors who chose to portray themselves in film and entertainment mocking their own kind. Maybe their masters just forced them to, or maybe they realized that it was just easier to give in... Who knows?

morgant said...

Kira- I agree with you, today when we watch that video we are horrified that blacks were portrayed in such a way, but back then it was completely normal. It is so different today than it was back then.

lizc said...

Do you think that the people who grew up in a prejudiced family knew that what they were doing was wrong or did it appear just in their eyes because of how they were raised?

macm said...

When I was reading the beginning of Pudd'nhead Wilson, I was surprised by how racist the master was in regards to the "black" slave woman when she was really only 1/32 black. I was struck with many interesting thoughts. Is President Obama black or white? Does either side have a bigger impact on him? What do you thinki people's perception of his race is? Why?

shannanp said...

Before watching Ethnic Notions, I had a whole different view of the people who believed in slavery than I do now. I didn't realize that there were white people whom had never seen a black person and who watched the movies about slavery, believed that the slaves truly enjoyed being captive. I also hadn't realized how much of an influence the stereotypes of black people and the comedy acts about the slave had on the white people.

AustinD said...

Enjoy the apointment.

I feel the big take away from the documentary was mostly, "This is what slaves faced in America and the impact it had in social culture." A lot of that time has shaped how america has journeyed forward in racial equalaty. As they said in the documentary, the images of the various racial steryotypes have, in a way, formed how America viewed slaves and all that leads to is a rigorous struggle to gain equalaty. All by those disturbing images and steryotypes.

I honeslty don't see too many racial steryotypes presented in the documentary in moddern culture. If anything, I feel the "Black brute" that was touched on in the end is probably to most prominent in moddern society and "Mammy" to a degree. Most of the other steryoptypes were mostly pro-slavery propaganda to keep slaves down in the plantations, but these aren't showing happiness in slavery or being ill-prepared in the outside world.

marissas said...

Kate- I agree with you about how the media portrayed African Americans as animals. They were just dehumanizing them to eliminate the guilt and attempt to make what they were doing and how they were treating them seem "okay".

amyw said...

What I took away from the documentary was that anything can be justified or made to seem better than it is if someone is intent on making it seem that way. White people probably felt extreme guilt over slavery, and they needed to justify it so they created these characters and portrayed them everywhere in popular culture. They made it seem like slaves were happy. White people tried very hard to justify slavery and make it seem OK, and for awhile they succeeded.

jordans said...

I think a certain prejudice shown throughout the movie that is still alive today is the way we think people from various races talk. Like Hannah said the gangster image that some people have are dominating racial stereotypes. I think music is where people get the image of certain cultures and think that all of a group is exactly the same.

rachels said...

The big idea I took away from the documentary was how easily and extremely people could change their perceptions of black people to suit their own purposes. During slavery they wanted to see slaves as happy and simple, and after emancipation they were percieved as dangerous animals. It was shocking how deep this self-delusion went in people trying to maintain slavery.
lizc - I definitely think it had to do with how they were raised. I think Pudd'nhead Wilson is commenting on this in a way - your race is irrevelent; it's all about your experience and situation.

KarlyH said...

I found that the documentary was very disturbing but at the same time very enlightening. I thought that it was interesting how people who had never before seen a black person were content to simply take in and believe other's interpretation. I think that in our society it would be difficult to be truly racist via media, due to the fact that so much is put into being politically correct, but watching this video made me wonder how much we believe just because we see it on the news or read it in a paper that we have very little knowledge of ourselves. How much of our views of the world are twisted by what the media want us to believe?

mollyd said...

Hannah- I agree the portrayal of the black children really shocked me and was upsetting. They took these innocent children and turned them into little savage beasts. They were more like an ideal snack for an alligator than kids. I would say that is probably the stereotype that was most surprising.

morganw said...

alexf - actually, I agree. Well, to an extent. I do agree that Twain's characters were prejudiced more so than racist, but the mere fact that they treated a, for all other accounts, a white woman and her son as slaves seems more than just prejudiced to me. Twain's characters come across as both racis and prejudiced. Racist as in black vs. white and prejudiced as in social classes and foreigners.

Which reminds me, does anyone else think that the Italian twins are a little too perfect??

alexf said...

KateP~
I agree. The images showed in the documentary were extremely offensive and racist. I can’t believe that people would exaggerate pictures that far! It’s horrible. What kind of racial images do you think exist though?

catem said...

Rachels~ I think that when Mark Twain wrote this book he was an abolitionist. He pretty much satirizes the institution of slavery and proves how irrelevant it is. I think one of the reasons this is confusing is because he grew up around racism and knew all its odds and ends, and could write about it very easily. I may be mistaken, but in his earlier days as a writer I believe he was a racist.

ParkerH said...

I know we're kind of going on this racism thing at the moment, but I thought of how whenever we have an issue with someone, whether that be because of their race, religion, or even political party, it is common to make that other person look bad. It's not a question of raising yourself up, but rather lowering down the other person. For instance, I could've sworn that I saw a picture of one of the Japanese leaders in WWII looking like some savage. So my point is, this kind of thing hasn't stopped since then (as far as I can tell).

morgant said...

MorganW- I think you bring up a good point about the mental state of people living back then in the midst of racism. It was more of how the society accepted that portrayal of blacks, and instead of questioning it, they went along with it. You're right, it is amazing how they could just accept something like that.

melissaz said...

I definitely don't think that Twain is at all racist, he seems to be portraying the different stereotypes and racism he saw and totally showing how ridiculous it was. As Whitney said about their part African American, and simply with the dialect of Roxy, Twain shows the deep separation between the different characters and how crazy these separations look.

lizc said...

AmyW- Do you truly believe that the white people felt guilt?!?! I think that they were raised in prejudiced families and therefore thought that what they were doing was alright.

maddief said...

Catem, I agree with your point on racism. According to standards back then, their actions were not racist just a part of society. Today their slurs and names are considered extremely racist. Also, I'm a little confused as to the difference between racism and prejudice. Can anyone explain?

kennaw said...

This documentary pin-pointed my feelings on racism and how African Americans were treated in that time period. I think it's interesting how there are so many different views on the way they were treated and what they were used for, yet none of them were a happy reasoning. The one thing I noticed, is the African Americans tried to find ways to entertain themselves and at least try to enjoy their life, while white people abused the power they were given and became obsessed with greed.

whitneys said...

meganu - That is a really interesting point you bring up about us trying to fit the stereotypes today rather than pulling away from them. I agree that today we are trying to fit in and that this in turn causes us to make these stereotypes more extreme. Consider the position of racism today. We strive so hard to not be racist, that the racism almost turns the other way at points. A white person can never say anything against a black because they will be called racist, while a black person can exhibit the same racism towards a white with out any punishment.

meganu said...

shannonp - I had the same exact view on white people during slavery. I always thought that everyone in America during this time either owned a slave or knew someone that owned a slave. I had no idea that there were people who had never see a slave. Now that I think about it, however, it makes sense. I can understand now how people could've thought of slaves as wild animals basically.

amyw said...

@lizc---I don't think they thought it was wrong at all. In the South during the era of slavery, their culture was honestly so steeped in slavery that I don't think anyone thought twice. That was all they had ever known, it was their way of life, and slaves supported their way of life. Of course we know it's wrong, but that's because we've been raised differently and can look at it through different eyes. They couldn't.

rachels said...

I thought it was interesting in the documentary how they tried to appeal to peoples "good side" too. So for people who were questioning wether slavery was good, they made it seem like the slaves loved their life and would never change it even if they could. I suspect it also appealed to guilty slave owners because they could trick their mind into beliving that what they were doing was for the slaves own good.

sabrinad said...

I took away several things from the movie. First of all I was absolutely stunned by the cartoons that were played with stereotypical African Americans. I am not sure how long they were played for but I kept thinking- what if I had been watching those as a child? What would I think if I hadnt known that was wrong? Would I have grown up thinking and believing in the stereotypes created? I also thought the images of the Sambo and Zip Coon were interesting in the thought that these must have really swayed people who were in the middle about whether slavery was right or wrong to assume it was okay. I think some stereotypical images from this film are still around but I also think new stereotypes of African Americans are present.

shannanp said...

LizC-
I think that it just depends on the person who is coming out of the predjudice family. I think this is just like a religiou family. Whatever religion you grow up with is most likely the one that a person practices their entire life. Also, just like religious people, people with predjudices believe that what they think is completely right and they really have no doubts if that is their upbringing.

lizc said...

MorganW- I believe that Twain is using the Twins as a basis to compare them to the racist society of America, and the imperfect society for that matter. By including those characters he can make the rest of the people in the story look really bad.

Oliviak said...

Liz I think that people who grow up in prejudiced households have a harder time changing to not be prejudiced and accepting different things because of the way they were raised.

rachels said...

maddief - I'm a little confused about that too, but I think racism is hate based solely on a person's race, and prejudice can be based on really any factor like a person's religion.

KiraW said...

Liz, I was wondering the same thing. I think that they were truly unaware. they thought that what they were doing was totally ok and almost nessicary. Do you think that they would think that it was wrong if they had been imersed in that culture comming from a place with out slavery? I don't know?

kennaw said...

Whitney S~ I don't feel that Twain was racist. I feel that he was trying to put racism on the spot and mock all how are racist and partially prejudice.

ParkerH said...

RachelS-
He's not just talking about situation and experience, but who you are as a person. If you hadn't noticed, the "master", or kid that should have been the slave, is one nasty dude. He's also commenting on that part of this whole thing.

amyw said...

@lizc---Guilt was the wrong word :) I meant that slavery was their way of life but that they wanted to sort of "explain" it to people outside the South---because it wasn't very common outside of that region. They needed a way to justify it so they created Jim Crow and Sambo. They probably thought slavery was right and by creating them they were enforcing how happy they thought their slaves were.

Laurenc said...

I think racism is a sad but very prominante part of life. No matter what, people will always judge others based on appearences and though this is not always racial it most often is. We don't think about the images portrayed in the film as much though I believe the image of the "mammy" is still seen today in some media.

hannahl said...

whitneys- I don't think that white people should be allowed to say bad things about the entire race of African-Americans, nor should African-Americans say bad things about the entire race of whites. Whites pretend that they are now the victims in flip-flopped racism, and we are definitely not. Racism, in any form, against an entire race of people is wrong. It is still a touchy subject, and the country still has wounds that are yet to be healed.

catem said...

Maddief~I just want to clarify one thing. I do think that growing up in a racist society highly affects someone, but I don't think that it gives/gave anyone any right to be racist. The truth is out there for anyone who is willing to look past what the culture is flashing in front of them.

MattN said...

Lizc~ people are shaped around the way they are raised. "tom" knew no other life then superiority, so if he had grown up in his actual home with roxy, then he would have been exactly like chambers, strong and docile! I think a person is born good, and the way that they are brought up dictates how they live their life!

maddief said...

Yeah, Mark Twain is definitely satirical in the fact that although Roxy is practically white, she is still a slave. How would white people feel reading this book way back when?

lizc said...

WhitneyS- I know what you mean about the whole racism thing. I feel like I can't joke around with black or asian people because I'm afraid of making a comment that other people will percieve as racism. I'm curious how the posistion of racism will turn out with a black president in office.

shannanp said...

MeganU-
Exactly! And I think that it was very unfair that they had their opinions of black people and slavery based off of racist cartoons and movies that depicted slavery as something that was good and helpful for the black people.

rachels said...

sabrinad - the cartoons shocked me too and I was thinking the same things watching them. I'm pretty sure that if we were watching those growing up in a racist society we wouldn't know that it was wrong. It's scary to think about, but were and when you're born is a big factor in how you grow up and what you think is right.

alexf said...

MattN~
I see what you’re saying, and agree somewhat, but if you think about it, the definition, from About.com, is Definition: race (n) a human population considered distinct based on physical characteristics. So this means that if they were racist, then they were against their physical characteristics. However, if you can’t see her blackness, then it’s not an issue of race.

hannahl said...

lizc- the problem is that jokes about 'black or asian people' are always racist, because it is about the entire group of people in a derogatory way, and therefore it isn't funny.

melissaz said...

Maddie- Those were some great points about the movie and the purposes for all of the negativity.

With Twain, if I had not started reading know that this was a satirical piece, I probably would have gone through most of the book thinking he was being totally serious about the racial negativities portrayed and the ideas he presents. It helps to understand Twain's perspective.

KarlyH said...

Liz-
I think that the slave owners knew that what they were doing was wrong, but in their society I think they didn't really care. In Pudd'nhead Willson the Boy treated the people around him he thought of as black with less respect simply because that is what was expected of him. Slavery was introduced to them at an age where their perspectives of right and wrong were still being formed and I think that though they understood they were doing wrong it didn't really matter.