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Exploring Caricaturs


Submitted By mrmiyagiwoofs
Words 769
Pages 4
“Ethnic Notions:” Exploring Caricatures

Racial formation is the process by which socio-historical designations of race are created and manipulated. When dealing with racial formation, one dominant group always has the power to impose racial definitions onto others. In America’s history, this one dominant group has been Caucasians. In the book, “Ethnic Notions,” Marlon Riggs explores the evolution of caricatures imposed on African Americans throughout the history, claiming the impact of such caricatures “did as much harm as any lynch mob.” In many ways, this claim speaks the truth. The mammy, sambo, pickaninny, zip coon, and uncle are a few important caricatures that prove white America’s innermost fears regarding race and white superiority. The mammy caricature is one that defeminizes African American women. Drawn as a smiling, hefty servant, her loyalty to her white owner’s family trumps that to her own children. The mammy was used as evidence of the “humanity” of slavery’s institution, for she was posited as content with her lowly position. This caricature reflects the fear of mixing races. By desexualizing African American women, like the mammy, then white men would then be less likely to become sexually involved with them. Many blues artists in the 1920s-30s stood up against the mammy caricature, such as Ma Rainey; her image stood to sexualize the mammy. The sambo caricature was depicted as a perpetual child, one who was incapable of living an independent life outside of the institution of slavery. This loyal servant was offered as a defense for slavery, for if blacks like the sambo were happy being servants, what could be wrong with segregation and slavery in the first place? This caricature showcases the dependency of whites on the institution of slavery. By suggesting an image of blissful servitude, then one suggests little reason to

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