The History of Negative Black Stereotypes, The Brute Caricature (Warning LONG ASS READ!)

Maximus Rex
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edited December 2014 in The Social Lounge
The Brute Caricature


The brute caricature portrays black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal -- deserving punishment, maybe death. This brute is a fiend, a sociopath, an anti-social menace. Black brutes are depicted as hideous, terrifying predators who target helpless victims, especially white women. Charles H. Smith (1893), writing in the 1890s, claimed, "A bad ? is the most horrible creature upon the earth, the most brutal and merciless"(p. 181). Clifton R. Breckinridge (1900), a contemporary of Smith's, said of the black race, "when it produces a brute, he is the worst and most insatiate brute that exists in human form" (p. 174). George T. Winston (1901), another "Negrophobic" writer, claimed:

When a knock is heard at the door [a White woman] shudders with nameless horror. The black brute is lurking in the dark, a monstrous beast, crazed with ? . His ferocity is almost demoniacal. A mad bull or tiger could scarcely be more brutal. A whole community is frenzied with horror, with the blind and furious rage for vengeance.(pp. 108-109)

During slavery the dominant caricatures of blacks -- Mammy, ? , Tom, and picaninny -- portrayed them as childlike, ignorant, docile, groveling, and generally harmless. These portrayals were pragmatic and instrumental. Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

During the Radical Reconstruction period (1867-1877), many white writers argued that without slavery -- which supposedly suppressed their animalistic tendencies -- blacks were reverting to criminal savagery. The belief that the newly-emancipated blacks were a "black peril" continued into the early 1900s. Writers like the novelist Thomas Nelson Page (1904) lamented that the slavery-era "good old darkies" had been replaced by the "new issue" (blacks born after slavery) whom he described as "lazy, thriftless, intemperate, insolent, dishonest, and without the most rudimentary elements of morality" (pp. 80, 163). Page, who helped popularize the images of cheerful and devoted Mammies and Sambos in his early books, became one of the first writers to introduce a literary black brute. In 1898 he published Red Rock, a Reconstruction novel, with the heinous figure of Moses, a loathsome and sinister black politician. Moses tried to ? a white woman: "He gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast" (pp. 356-358). He was later lynched for "a terrible crime."

The "terrible crime" most often mentioned in connection with the black brute was ? , specifically the ? of a white woman. At the beginning of the twentieth century, much of the virulent, anti-black propaganda that found its way into scientific journals, local newspapers, and best-selling novels focused on the stereotype of the black ? . The claim that black brutes were, in epidemic numbers, ? white women became the public rationalization for the lynching of blacks.

The lynching of blacks was relatively common between Reconstruction and World War II. According to Tuskegee Institute data, from 1882 to 1951 4,730 people were lynched in the United States: 3,437 black and 1,293 white (Gibson, n.d.). Many of the white lynching victims were foreigners or belonged to oppressed groups, for example, Mormons, Shakers, and Catholics. By the early 1900s lynching had a decidedly racial character: white mobs lynched blacks. Almost 90 percent of the lynchings of blacks occurred in southern or border states.

Many of these victims were ritualistically tortured. In 1904, Luther Holbert and his wife were burned to death. They were "tied to trees and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears...were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket." Members of the mob then speared the victims with a large corkscrew, "the spirals tearing out big pieces of...flesh every time it was withdrawn" (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 1).


A mob lynching was a brutal and savage event, and it necessitated that the lynching victim be seen as equally brutal and savage; as these lynchings became more common and more brutal, so did the assassination of the black character. In 1900, Charles Carroll's The ? A Beast claimed that blacks were more akin to apes than to human beings, and theorized that blacks had been the "tempters of Eve." Carroll said that mulatto (1) brutes were the rapists and murderers of his time (pp. 167, 191, 290-202). Dr. William Howard, writing in the respectable journal Medicine in 1903, claimed that "the attacks on defenseless White women are evidence of racial instincts" (in blacks), and the black birthright was "sexual madness and excess" (Fredrickson, 1971, p. 279). Thomas Dixon's The Leopard's Spots, a 1902 novel, claimed that emancipation had transformed blacks from "a chattel to be bought and sold into a beast to be feared and guarded" (Fredrickson, p. 280).

1. The tragic mulatto caricature was sometimes treated as an adult; albeit, a troubled, white-identified, self-loathing adult.



  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    A mob lynching was a brutal and savage event, and it necessitated that the lynching victim be seen as equally brutal and savage; as these lynchings became more common and more brutal, so did the assassination of the black character. In 1900, Charles Carroll's The ? A Beast claimed that blacks were more akin to apes than to human beings, and theorized that blacks had been the "tempters of Eve." Carroll said that mulatto (1) brutes were the rapists and murderers of his time (pp. 167, 191, 290-202). Dr. William Howard, writing in the respectable journal Medicine in 1903, claimed that "the attacks on defenseless White women are evidence of racial instincts" (in blacks), and the black birthright was "sexual madness and excess" (Fredrickson, 1971, p. 279). Thomas Dixon's The Leopard's Spots, a 1902 novel, claimed that emancipation had transformed blacks from "a chattel to be bought and sold into a beast to be feared and guarded" (Fredrickson, p. 280).


    Birth of a Nation In 1905 Dixon published his most popular novel, The Clansman. In this book he described blacks as "half child, half animal, the sport of impulse, whim, and conceit...a being who, left to his will, roams at night and sleeps in the day, whose speech knows no word of love, whose passions, once aroused, are as the fury of the tiger" (Fredrickson, 1971, pp. 280-281). The Clansman includes a detailed and gory account of the ? of a young white ? by a black brute. "A single tiger springs, and the black claws of the beast sank into the soft white throat." After the ? , the girl and her mother both commit suicide, and the black brute is lynched by the Ku Klux ? . This book served as the basis for the movie The Birth of a Nation (Griffith, 1915), which also portrayed some blacks as ? -beasts, justified the lynching of blacks, and glorified the Ku Klux ? . Carroll, Howard, and Dixon did not exceed the prevailing racism of the so-called Progressive Era.

    In 1921-22 the United States House of Representatives and Senate debated the Dyer Bill, an anti-lynching bill. This bill provided fines and imprisonment for persons convicted of lynching in federal courts, and fines and penalties against states, counties, and cities which failed to use reasonable effort to protect citizens from lynch mobs. The Dyer Bill passed in the House of Representatives, but it was killed in the Senate by filibustering southerners who claimed that it was unconstitutional and an infringement upon states' rights (Gibson, n.d., p. 5). The following statements made by southern Congressmen during the Dyer Bill debate suggest that they were more concerned with white supremacy and the oppression of blacks than they were with constitutional issues.

    Senator James Buchanan of Texas claimed that in "the Southern States and in secret meetings of the ? race [white liberals] preach the damnable doctrine of social equality which excites the criminal sensualities of the criminal element of the ? race and directly incites the diabolical crime of ? upon the white women. Lynching follows as swift as lightning, and all the statutes of State and Nation cannot stop it." (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 14)

    Representative Percy Quin of Mississippi, spoke of lynch law, "Whenever an infamous outrage is committed upon a [Southern] White woman the law is enforced by the neighbors of the woman who has been outraged? The colored people of [the South] realize the manner of that enforcement, and that is the one method by which the horrible crime of ? has been held down where the ? element is in a large majority. The man who believes that the ? race is all bad is mistaken. But you must recollect that there is an element of barbarism in the black man, and the people around where he lives recognize that fact." (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 15)

    Representative Sisson of Mississippi said, "as long as ? continues lynching will continue. For this crime, and this crime alone, the South has not hesitated to administer swift and certain punishment....We are going to protect our girls and womenfolk from these black brutes. When these black fiends keep their hands off the throats of the women of the South then lynching will stop..." (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 16)

    Representative Benjamin Tillman from South Carolina claimed that the Dyer Bill would eliminate the states and "substitute for the starry banner of the Republic, a black flag of tyrannical centralized as the face and heart of the ? ...who [recently] deflowered and killed Margaret Lear," a White girl in South Carolina. (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 14) Tillman asked why anyone should care about the "burning of an occasional ravisher," when the House had more important concerns. (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 16)

    Senator T.H. Caraway of Arkansas claimed that the NAACP, "wrote this bill and handed it to the proponents of it. These people had but one idea in view, and that was to make ? permissible, and to allow the guilty to go unpunished if that ? should be committed by a ? against a white woman in the South." (Holden-Smith, 1996, p. 16)
  • Maximus Rex
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    edited December 2014

    Despite the hyperbolic claims of those Congressmen, most of the blacks lynched had not been accused of ? or attempted ? . According to the Tuskegee Institute's lynching data, the accusations against lynching victims for the years 1882 to 1951 were: 41 percent for felonious assault, 19.2 percent for ? , 6.1 percent for attempted ? , 4.9 percent for robbery and theft, 1.8 percent for insulting white people, and 27 percent for miscellaneous offenses (for example, trying to vote, testifying against a white man, asking a white woman to marry) or no offenses at all (Gibson, n.d., p. 3). The 25.3% who were accused of ? or attempted ? were often not guilty, and were killed without benefit of trial. Gunnar Myrdal (1944), a Swedish social scientist who studied American race relations, stated:

    There is much reason to believe that this figure [25.3 percent] has been inflated by the fact that a mob which makes the accusation of ? is secure from any further investigation; by the broad Southern definition of ? to include all sexual relations between ? men and white women; and by the psychopathic fears of white women in their contacts with ? men. (pp. 561-562)

    Lynchings often involved castration, amputation of hands and feet, spearing with long nails and sharpened steel rods, removal of eyes, beating with blunt instruments, shooting with bullets, burning at the stake, and hanging. It was, when done by southern mobs, especially sadistic, irrespective of the criminal charge. Most white southerners agreed that lynching was evil, but they claimed that black brutes were a greater evil.

    Lynchings were necessary, argued many whites, to preserve the racial purity of the white race, more specifically, the racial purity of white women.
    White men had sexual relations -- consensual and ? -- with black women as soon as Africans were introduced into the European American colonies. These sexual unions produced numerous mixed-race offspring. White women, as "keepers of white racial purity," were not allowed consensual sexual relations with black men. A black man risked his life by having sexual relations with a white woman. Even talking to a white woman in a "familiar" manner could result in black males being killed.


    In 1955, Emmett Till, a black fourteen year old from Chicago, visited his relatives in Mississippi. The exact details are not known, but Till apparently referred to a female white store clerk as "Baby." Several days later, the woman's husband and brother took Till from his uncle's home, beat him to death -- his head was crushed and one eye was gouged out--and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River. The men were caught, tried, and found innocent by an all-white jury. The case became a cause celebre during the civil rights movement, showing the nation that brutal violence undergirded Jim Crow laws and etiquette.

    There were black rapists with white victims, but they were relatively rare; most white ? victims were ? by white men. The brute caricature was a red herring, a myth used to justify lynching, which in turn was used as a social control mechanism to instill fear in black communities. Each lynching sent messages to blacks: Do not register to vote. Do not apply for a white man's job. Do not complain publicly. Do not organize. Do not talk to white women. The brute caricature gained in popularity whenever blacks pushed for social equality. According to Allen D. Grimshaw (1969), a sociologist, the most savage oppression of blacks by whites, whether expressed in rural lynchings or urban race riots, has taken place when blacks have refused or been perceived by whites as refusing to accept a subordinate or oppressed status (pp. 264-265).


    The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s forced many white Americans to examine their images of and beliefs about blacks. Television and newspaper coverage showing black protesters, including children, being beaten, arrested, and jailed by baton-waving police officers led many whites to see blacks as victims, not victimizers. The brute caricature did not die, but it lost much of its credibility. Not surprisingly, lynchings, especially public well-attended ones, decreased in number. Lynchings became "hate crimes," committed secretly. Beginning in the 1960s the relatively few blacks who were lynched were not accused of sexual assaults; instead, these lynchings were reactions of white supremacists to black economic and social progress.

    The brute caricature has not been as common as the ? caricature in American movies. The Birth of a Nation (Griffiths, 1915) was the first major American movie to portray all the major anti-black caricatures, including the brute. That movie led to numerous black protests and white-initiated race riots. One result of the racial strife was that black male actors in the 1920s through 1940s found themselves limited to ? and Tom roles. It was neither socially acceptable nor economically profitable to show movies where black brutes terrorized whites.

    In the 1960s and 1970s "Blaxploitation" movies brought aggressive, anti-white black males onto the big screen. Some of these fit the "Buck" caricature -- for example, the private detective in Shaft (Freeman & Parks, 1971) and the ? in Superfly (Shore & Parks, 1972) -- but some of the Blaxploitation actors were cinematic brutes, for example Melvin Van Peebles' character in Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (Gross, Van Peebles & Van Peebles, 1971). Sweetback, the main character, is falsely accused of a crime. On the lam he assaults several men, rapes a black woman, and kills corrupt police officers. The movie ends with the message: A BAADASSSSS ? IS COMING BACK TO COLLECT SOME DUES. That frightened whites. Young blacks, tired of the Stepin Fetchit portrayals, flocked to see the low-budget movie. Although dressed in the clothes of a rebel, Sweetback was as much a brute as had been the lustful Gus in The Birth of a Nation.

  • Maximus Rex
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    edited December 2014

    American ? (Bruckheimer & Schrader, 1980) had a poisonous and despicable black ? . He was one of the many black sadistic pimps who have abused and degraded whites in American movies. Mister---, the husband in The Color Purple (Jones, Kennedy, Marshall, Spielberg & Spielberg, 1985), is an angry and savage wife abuser, and so is Ike Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It? (Chapin, Krost & Gibson, 1993). Both are brutes whose victims happen to be black. Turner's real life criminal behavior (which predated the movie) was used to give credibility to his character's portrayal as a brute and, more importantly, to reinforce the belief that blacks are especially prone to brutish behavior.

    In the 1980s and 1990s the typical cinema and television brute was nameless and sometimes faceless; he sprang from a hiding place, he robbed, ? , and murdered. He represented the cold brutality of urban life. Often he was a gangbanger. Sometimes he was a dope fiend. Actors who played the black brute were usually not on screen very long, just long enough to terrorize innocent victims. They were movie props. On television shows like Law and Order, Homicide: Life on the Streets, ER, and NYPD Blue, nameless black brutes assault, maim, and ? . On October 2, 2000, NBC debuted Deadline, a drama involving an irascible journalism teacher. In the first episode two young black males brutally ? five restaurant workers. They ? without remorse.

    The recent depiction of black males as brutes is not limited to television dramas. Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion, has embraced the brute image. Tyson was marketed as a sadistic and savage warrior who was capable of killing an opponent. His quick knockouts bolstered his reputation as the world's most feared man. Joyce Carol Oates wrote, "Tyson suggests a savagery only symbolically contained within the brightly illuminated ring" (Souther, n.d.). She wrote this a decade before Tyson was convicted of several criminal charges, including the ? of a beauty pageant contestant, and later, the battering of two motorists. After his boxing skills had diminished, Tyson gained greater notoriety by biting the ear of an opponent during a bout. In a news conference Tyson said, "I am an animal. I am a convicted ? , a hell-raiser, a loving father, a semi-good husband." Referring to Lennox Lewis, the heavyweight boxing champion, Tyson said, "If he ever tries to intimidate me, I'm gonna put a ? bullet through his ? skull" (Serjeant, 2000). Tyson benefited from the brute image. His boxing matches were "events." Spectators paid thousands of dollars for ringside seats. Tyson became the wealthiest and best known athlete on earth. In his mind, he was a twenty-first century gladiator; to the American public, he was simply a black brute.


    Tyson is a violent and emotionally unstable man, but he is more than a one-dimensional brute. He has donated thousands of dollars to civic, educational, and humanitarian organizations. Without media fanfare, he has visited hundreds of hospitalized patients, especially seriously ill and injured children. He is smarter than his public image, and has worked diligently to "deepen" his intellect. Yet, he was marketed, with his permission, as a crude savage. Americans see him as an affirmation of the black brute caricature, and he has, especially in recent years, embraced the stereotype outside the boxing ring. Tyson can no longer distinguish the (Iron Mike) myth from the (vicious criminal) madness, and many white Americans cannot separate Tyson's criminal behavior from his blackness.

    During the 1988 presidential campaign, George Bush's election committee sought to portray his opponent, Michael Dukakis, as weak on crime. Bush's team used television advertisements which showed a menacing mug shot of Willie Horton, a black convicted murderer. Horton, while out of prison on an unguarded 48-hour furlough, kidnapped a young white suburban couple. He repeatedly stabbed the man and ? the woman several times. The image of Horton's threatening face on the nation's television screens helped Bush win the election. It also reinforced the belief that a black brute is worse than a white brute.

    My wife's been shot. I'm shot.... He made us go to an abandoned area. I don't see any signs. Oh, ? !
    This frantic telephone call came into the Massachusetts State Police on the night of October 23, 1989. After a desperate search, using only the sound from the open cell telephone as their guide, police discovered an injured couple. Carol DiMaiti Stuart, seven months pregnant, had been shot in the head; Charles, her husband, had a serious gunshot wound to the abdomen. Hours later, doctors performed a Cesarean section on the dying woman and delivered a premature baby boy who died days later. Charles Stuart told the police that the murderer was a black man.

    The city of Boston, which has a history of racial discord, experienced heightened racial tensions as police searched for the black brute. Officers went into black neighborhoods and rounded up hundreds of black men for questioning. The black community was outraged. Charles Stuart picked Willie Bennett out of a lineup; Bennett was subsequently arrested for the crime (Ogletree, n.d.).

    Later, police were informed by Stuart's brother that Charles Stuart probably killed his wife for insurance money. The police began investigating Charles Stuart and were building a strong circumstantial case when, on January 4, 1990, he committed suicide.

    In 1994 Susan Smith, a young mother in Union, South Carolina, claimed that a man had commandeered her car with her two boys: 14-month-old Alex and 3-year-old Michael. She described the carjacker as a "black male in his late 20s to early 30s, wearing a plaid shirt, jeans, and a toboggan-type hat." A composite of her description was published in newspapers, nationally and locally. Smith appeared on national television, tearfully begging for her sons to be returned safely. An entire nation wept with her, and the image of the black brute resurfaced. The Reverend Mark Long, the pastor of the church where Smith's family attended services, said in reference to the black suspect, "There are some people that would like to see this man's brains bashed in" (Squires, 1994).

    After nine days of a gut-wrenching search and strained relations between local blacks and whites, there was finally a break in the case: Susan Smith confessed to drowning her own sons. In a two-page handwritten confession she apologized to her sons, but she did not apologize to blacks, nationally or locally. "It was hard to be black this week in Union," said Hester Booker, a local black man. "The whites acted so different. They wouldn't speak (to blacks); they'd look at you and then reach over and lock their doors. And all because that lady lied" (Fields, 1994).

    The false allegations of Charles Stuart and Susan Smith could have led to racial violence. In 1908, in Springfield, Illinois, Mabel Hallam, a white woman, falsely accused "a black fiend," George Richardson, of ? her. Her accusations angered local whites. They formed a mob, killed two blacks chosen randomly, then burned and pillaged the local black community. Blacks fled to avoid a mass lynching. Hallam later admitted that she lied about the ? to cover up an extramarital affair.

    How many lynchings and race riots have resulted from false accusations of ? and murder leveled against so-called black brutes?

    © Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology
    Ferris State University
    Nov., 2000
    Edited 2012

    1. The tragic mulatto caricature was sometimes treated as an adult; albeit, a troubled, white-identified, self-loathing adult.
  • Maximus Rex
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    edited December 2014
    The Picaninny Caricature


    The picaninny (1) was the dominant racial caricature of black children for most of this country's history. They were "child ? ," miniature versions of Stepin Fetchit (see Pilgrim (2000)). Picaninnies had bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips, and wide mouths into which they stuffed huge slices of watermelon. They were themselves tasty morsels for alligators. They were routinely shown on postcards, posters, and other ephemera being chased or eaten. Picaninnies were portrayed as nameless, shiftless natural buffoons running from alligators and toward fried chicken.

    The first famous picaninny was Topsy -- a poorly dressed, disreputable, neglected slave girl. Topsy appeared in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Topsy was created to show the evils of slavery. Here was an untamable "wild child" who had been indelibly corrupted by slavery.

    She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction. The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a veil, an expression of the most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded in front of her. Altogether,there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance -- something as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, "so heathenish..." (p. 258)

    Stowe hoped that readers would be heartbroken by the tribulations of Topsy, and would help end slavery -- which, she believed, produced many similar children. Her book, while leading some Americans to question the morality of slavery, was used by others to trivialize slavery's brutality. Topsy, for example, was soon a staple character in minstrel shows. The stage Topsy, unlike Stowe's version, was a happy, mirthful character who reveled in her misfortune. Topsy was still ? , with kinky hair and ragged clothes, but these traits were transformed into comic props--as was her misuse of the English language. No longer a sympathetic figure, Topsy became, simply, a harmless ? . The stage Topsy and her imitators remained popular from the early 1850s well into the twentieth century (Turner, 1994, p. 14).

    Black children were some of the earliest "stars" of the fledgling motion picture industry; albeit, as picaninnies (Bogle, 1994, p. 7). Thomas Alva Edison patented 1,093 inventions. In 1891 he invented the kinetoscope and the kinetograph, which laid the groundwork for modern motion picture technology. During his camera experiments in 1893, Edison photographed some black children as "interesting side effects." In 1904 he presented Ten Picaninnies, which showed those "side effects" running and playing. These nameless children were referred to as inky kids, smoky kids, black lambs, snowballs, chubbie ebonies, bad chillun, and ? .

    The Ten Picaninnies was a forerunner to Hal Roach's Our Gang series -- sometimes referred to as The Little Rascals. First produced in 1922, Our Gang continued into the "talkie era." Roach described the show as "comedies of child life." It included an interracial cast of children, including, at various times, these black characters: Sunshine Sammy, Pineapple, and Farina in the 1920s, and later, Stymie and Buckwheat. One or two black children appeared in each short episode.


    Our Gang is often credited with being "one of Hollywood's few do better by the ? " (Leab, 1976, p. 46). All of the children, blacks and whites, took turns playing nitwits. Donald Bogle (1994) wrote: "Indeed, the charming sense of Our Gang was that all of the children were buffoons, forever in scraps and scrapes, forever plagued by setbacks and sidetracks as they set out to have fun, and everyone had his turn at being outwitted" (p. 23). While this is true, the black characters were often buffoons in racially stereotypical ways. They spoke in dialect -- dis, dat, I is, you is, and we is. Farina, arguably the most famous picaninny of the 1920s, was on more than one occasion shown savagely eating watermelon or chicken. He was also terrified of ghosts -- this fear was a persistent theme for adult ? in later comedy films. Farina and Buckwheat wore tightly twisted "picaninny pigtails" and old patched gingham clothes which made their sex ambiguous. Why was this sexual ambiguity a necessary part of the show? Buckwheat, the quiet boy with big eyes, has an unenviable distinction: his name is now synonymous with picaninny. This is due, in large part, to Eddie Murphy's depiction of Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. Indeed, the term picaninny is today rarely used as a racial slur; it has been replaced by the term buckwheat.

    1. It is also spelled pickaninny and piccaninny.
  • Maximus Rex
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    edited December 2014
    Characteristics of Picaninnies

    Picaninnies as portrayed in material culture have skin coloring ranging from medium brown to dark black -- light skinned picaninnies are rare. They include infants and teenagers; however, most appear to be 8-10 years old. Prissy, the inept and hysterical servant girl in Gone With the Wind (Selznick & Fleming, 1939) was an exception. She was older than the typical picaninny, but her character was functionally a picaninny. Picaninny girls (and sometimes boys) have hair tied or matted in short stalks that point in all directions; often the boys are bald, their heads shining like metal. The children have big, wide eyes, and oversized mouths -- ostensibly to accommodate huge pieces of watermelon.


    The picaninny caricature shows black children as either poorly dressed, wearing ragged, torn, old and oversized clothes, or, and worse, they are shown as nude or near-nude. This nudity suggests that black children, and by extension black parents, are not concerned with modesty. The nudity also implies that black parents neglect their children. A loving parent would provide clothing. The nudity of black children suggests that blacks are less civilized than whites (who wear clothes).

    The nudity is also problematic because it sexualizes these children. Black children are shown with exposed genitalia and buttocks -- often without apparent shame. Moreover, the buttocks are often exaggerated in size, that is, black children are shown with the buttocks of adults. The widespread depictions of nudity among black children normalizes their sexual objectification, and, by extension, justifies the sexual abuse of these children.


    A disproportionately high number of African American children are poor, but the picaninny caricature suggests that all black children are impoverished. This poverty is evidenced by their ragged clothes. The children are hungry, therefore, they steal chickens and watermelon. Like wild animals, the picaninnies often must fend for themselves.


    Picaninnies are portrayed in greeting cards, on-stage, and in physical objects as insignificant beings. Stories like Ten Little ? show Black children being rolled over by boulders, chased by alligators, and set on fire. Black children are shown on postcards being attacked by dogs, chickens, pigs and other animals. This is consistent with the many 19th and 20th century pseudo-scientific theories which claimed that blacks were destined for extinction. William Smith, a Tulane University professor, published The Color Line in 1905. He argued that blacks would die off because the "doom that awaits the ? has been prepared in like measure for all inferior races" (Fredrickson, 1971, p. 257). George Fredrickson's The Black Image in the White Mind includes an excellent discussion of the "black race will die" theories (pp. 71-164).

    Picaninnies were often depicted side by side with animals. For example, a 1907 postcard, showed a Black child on his knees looking at a pig. The caption read, "Whose Baby is OO?" A 1930s bisque match holder showed a black baby emerging from an egg while a rooster looked on. On postcards black children were often referred to as ? , monkeys, crows, and opossums. A 1930s pinback (2) showed a bird with the head of a black girl. Picaninnies were "shown crawling on the ground, climbing trees, straddled over logs, or in other ways assuming animal-like postures" (Turner, p. 15). The message was this: black children are more animal than human.

    2. A pinback is similar to a brooch, but it has a flat face to display an advertisement or other image.
  • Maximus Rex
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    edited December 2014
    [img] .jpg[/img]

    Arguably, the most controversial picaninny image is the one created by Helen Bannerman. Born Brodie Cowie Watson, the daughter of a Scottish minister, she married Will Bannerman, a surgeon in the British Army of India. She spent thirty years of her life in India. She regularly wrote illustrated letters with fantasy storylines to entertain their children. In 1898 there "came into her head, evolved by the moving of a train," the entertaining story of a little black boy, beautifully clothed, who outwits a succession of tigers, and not only saves his own life but gets a stack of tiger-striped pancakes (Bader, 1996, p. 536). The story eventually became Little Black ? . The book appeared in England in 1899 and was an immediate success. The next year it was published in the United States by Frederick A. Stokes, a mainstream publisher. It was even more successful than it had been in England. The book's success led to many imitators -- and controversies. Barbara Bader (1996), a book critic, summarized the events.

    All American children did not see the same book, however. Though the authorized Stokes edition sold well and never went out of print, a host of other versions quickly began to appear from mass-market publishers, from reprint houses, from small, outlying firms unconstrained by the mutual courtesies of the major publishers. A few are straight knock-offs of the book that Bannerman made, without her name on the title page; the majority were reillustrated -- with gross, degrading caricatures that set ? down on the old plantation or, with equal distortiveness, deposited him in Darkest Africa. Libraries stocked the Stokes edition, and a few others selectively. But overall the bootleg Sambos were much cheaper, more widely distributed, and vastly more numerous.(pp. 537-538)

    Was Bannerman's Little Black ? racist? The major characters: Little Black ? , his mother (Black Mumbo) and his father (Black Jumbo) used standard English, not the bastardized English then associated with blacks. Stereotypical anti-black traits -- for example, laziness, stupidity, and immorality -- were absent from the book. Little Black ? , the character, was bright and resourceful unlike most portrayals of black children. Nevertheless, the book does have anti-black overtones, most notably the illustrations. ? is crudely drawn, an obvious caricature. Some Bannerman supporters claim that ? is not even black, that he is actually Indian (South Asian, not American Indian). This seems unlikely. Bannerman could have drawn an Indian character if that was her intention, the Little Black ? character is very dark, has a broad nose, and the stereotypical exaggerated red lips and rolling eyes found in black caricatures. His only South Asian feature is the hair, which is black but not kinky. The little hero is black, not South Asian. Black Mumbo is drawn as a stereotypical American looking mammy, though she is not obese. The caricature of Black Jumbo is softer, though it is similar to the Dandy caricature. The names Mumbo and Jumbo also make the characters seem nonsensical at a time when blacks were routinely thought to be inherently dumb.

    The illustrations were racially offensive, and so was the name ? . At the time that the book was originally published ? was an established anti-black epithet, a generic degrading reference. It symbolized the lazy, grinning, docile, childlike, good-for-little servant. Maybe Bannerman was unfamiliar with ? 's American meaning. For many African Americans Little Black ? was an entertaining story ruined by racist pictures and racist names. Julius Lester (1997), who has recently co-authored Sam and the Tigers (Lester, Bannerman, Pinkney, & Bierhorst, 1996), an updated Afrocentric version of Little Black ? , wrote:

    When I read Little Black ? as a child, I had no choice but to identify with him because I am black and so was he. Even as I sit here and write the feelings of shame, embarrassment and hurt come back. And there was a bit of confusion because I liked the story and I especially liked all those pancakes, but the illustrations exaggerated the racial features society had made it clear to me represented my racial inferiority -- the black, black skin, the eyes shining white, the red protruding lips. I did not feel good about myself as a black child looking at those pictures.

    It is likely that Bannerman did not intentionally write Little Black ? to offend any group; after all, the story was conceived as a private fantasy tale to share with her children. It is also likely that she did not understand the racist overtones of the book. She tried to write an "exotic" tale. The book reflects, but does not exceed, the prevailing anti-black imaging of her time. Nevertheless, illustrations in Little Black ? are caricatures. She also depicted dark-skinned people in caricature form in her other books, including, Little Black Mingo (1902) and Little Black Quibba (1902). She used realistic, non-caricatured drawings of white characters in her books such as Pat and the Spider (1904), and Little White Squibba (1966).

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014

    Little Black ? served as the boiler plate for a spate of other versions, many of which used mean-spirited racist drawings and dialogue. The ? reprint versions were symbolic of black-white relations.Little Black ? 's popularity coincided with the crystallization of Jim Crow laws and etiquette. Blacks were denied basic human and civil rights, discriminated against in the labor market, barred from many public schools and libraries, harassed at voting booths, subjected to physical violence, and generally treated as second class citizens. The year that Little Black ? came to America a white-initiated race riot occurred in New Orleans. It was effectively a pogrom -- blacks were beaten, their schools and homes destroyed. Little Black ? did not, of course, cause riots, but it entered America during a period of strained and harsh race relations. It was, simply, another insult in the daily lives of African Americans.

    The anti-Little Black ? movement started in the 1930s and continued into the 1970s. Black educators and civil rights leaders organized numerous campaigns to get the book banned from public libraries, especially in elementary schools. In 1932 Langston Hughes said Little Black ? exemplified the "pickaninny variety" of storybook, "amusing undoubtedly to the white child, but like an unkind word to one who has known too many hurts to enjoy the additional pain of being laughed at" (Von Drasek, 2009). In the 1940s and 1950s the book was dropped from many lists of "Recommended Books." By the 1960s the book was seen as a remnant of a racist past.

    Little Black ? was again popular by the mid-1990s. Its recent popularity is a result of many factors, including a white backlash against perceived political correctness. This is evident in internet discussions. Americans, black and white, are rereading the original book (and some of the unauthorized reprints). There is agreement that Bannerman's book is entertaining. However, there is little agreement regarding whether it is racist. White readers tend to focus on Bannerman's non-racist intentions and the unfairness of judging yesterday's "classics" by today's standards of racial equality. Blacks find the book's title and the illustrations offensive. Most of the debate centers on Bannerman's version; there is no debating the racism explicit in later editions of the book produced by other writers and publishers.

    In 1996 two readaptions of Little Black ? were published. The Story of Little Babaji, by Fred Marcellino (Bannerman & Marcellino), set the story in India, not Africa. Also, the characters' names were changed to Babaji, Mamaji, and Papaji. It used the Bannerman text but Marcellino drew non-caricatured illustrations. The book is uncontroversial. Sam and the Tigers (Lester et al.), written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, is a retelling of the story in a folksy, southern black voice. The story's setting is not Africa or India, but a mythical southern town "where the animals and the people lived and worked together like they didn't know they weren't supposed to." There are still tigers that Sam must outwit, but Lester's tale is contemporary. For example, after one tiger threatens to eat him, Sam says, "If you do it'll send your cholesterol way up." If Bannerman had used different names for the book and characters, and had used realistic, not caricatured, illustrations, there would be little need for the Marcellino or Lester adaptations.

    © Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology
    Ferris State University
    Oct., 2000
    Edited 2012

  • kzzl
    kzzl Members Posts: 7,548 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Props on the info, bruh.
  • The Lonious Monk
    The Lonious Monk Members Posts: 26,258 ✭✭✭✭✭
    SMH @ white people. How can you believe Blacks need to be killed because they are savage, turn around and do things to them far more savage than anything they did to anyone, and not see the hypocrisy? It's crazy how they blinded themselves to their own evils.
  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    kzzl wrote: »
    Props on the info, bruh.

    Thank you. Part of combating and ultimately defeating white supremacy is displaying the history of the of pernicious and despicable philosophy and showing how it lead to the disenfranchisement, legitimatizing the ? , murder, and brutality that our people have been and are currently subjected to.
    SMH @ white people. How can you believe Blacks need to be killed because they are savage, turn around and do things to them far more savage than anything they did to anyone, and not see the hypocrisy? It's crazy how they blinded themselves to their own evils.

    Deflection is a muthafucka bruh.

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    The Tom Caricature


    The Tom caricature portrays black men as faithful, happily submissive servants. The Tom caricature, like the Mammy caricature, was born in ante-bellum America in the defense of slavery. How could slavery be wrong, argued its proponents, if black servants, males (Toms) and females (Mammies), were contented and loyal? The Tom is presented as a smiling, wide-eyed, dark skinned server: fieldworker, cook, butler, porter, or waiter. Unlike the ? , the Tom is portrayed as a dependable worker, eager to serve. Unlike the Brute, the Tom is docile and non-threatening to whites. The Tom is often old, physically weak, psychologically dependent on whites for approval. In his book, Toms, ? , Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks, Donald Bogle (1994) summarizes the depiction of Toms in movies:

    Always as toms are chased, harassed, hounded, flogged, enslaved, and insulted, they keep the faith, n'er turn against their white massas, and remain hearty, submissive, stoic, generous, selfless, and oh-so-very kind. Thus they endear themselves to white audiences and emerge as heroes of sorts. (pp. 5-6)

    Bogle's description is similar to the portrayal of the main black character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe's Tom is a gentle, humble, Christian slave. His faith is simple, natural, and complete. Stowe uses Tom's character to show the perfect gentleness and forgiving nature which she believed lay dormant in all blacks. These qualities reveal themselves under favorable conditions. Mr. Shelby, Tom's first Master is kind; therefore, Tom's innate spirituality flourishes. Mr. Shelby is not a good businessman; his financial troubles necessitate that he sell Tom. Tom does not run away despite a warning that he is to be sold. Mr. St. Clare, his second master, befriends Tom and promises to free him. Unfortunately for Tom, Mr. St. Clare is killed before signing manumission papers. Tom's fortunes take a decidedly sad turn. Tom is sold to Simon Legree, a brutal and sadistic deep South plantation owner. Legree is also a drunkard who hates religion and religious people.

    Legree intends to make Tom an overseer. Tom is ordered by Legree to flog a woman slave. Tom refuses. Legree strikes him repeatedly with a cowhide lash. Again, he tells Tom to beat the woman. Tom, with a soft voice, says, "the poor crittur's sick and feeble; 'twould be downright cruel, and it's what I never would do, nor begin to. Mas'r, if you mean to ? me, ? me; but, as to my raising my hand agin anyone here, I never shall, -- I'll die first" (Stowe, p. 439).

    Stowe wanted to show how slavery was incongruent with Christianity. How could Christians, she wondered, buy, sell, and trade slaves? How could they offer even tacit approval of slavery? How could white Christians allow their enslaved brethren to be sold to the likes of Legree? Her book is an unabashed attack on slavery, and Tom is one of her two perfect Christian characters; Mr. St. Clare's daughter, Eva, the other. Both die, Tom as a martyr.

    Legree demands information from Tom about two women runaways. He knows that Tom can help him. Tom refuses. Legree beats Tom and threatens to ? him if Tom does not help him find the women. Tom, ever the Christian, does not lie, nor does he give Legree the information. Instead, Tom says:

    Mas'r if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I'd give ye my heart's blood; and if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I'd give'em freely, as the Lord gave His for me. O, Mas'r! don't bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than 'twill me! Do the worst you can, my troubles'll be over soon; but, if ye don't repent, yours won't never end. (p. 508)

    Legree beats Tom; ? , one of Legree's black overseers, flogs Tom. As Tom is dying, Legree yells to ? , "Give it to him!" Tom opens his eyes, looks at Legree, and says, "Ye poor miserable crittur! There ain't no more that ye can do! I forgive ye, with all my soul" (p. 509). Soon afterwards, Tom dies. Stowe portrayed him as a Christ figure; albeit a childlike one. Tom was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of an evil institution.


    Despite being a model slave -- hard working, loyal, non-rebellious, and often contented -- Tom is sold, cursed, slapped, kicked, flogged, worked like a horse, then beaten to death. He never lifts a hand to hit his masters nor to stop a blow. Tom does not complain, rebel, or run away. This partially explains why the names "Uncle Tom" and "Tom" have become terms of disgust for African Americans. Tom's devotion to his master is surpassed only by his devotion to his religious faith.

    Uncle Tom's Cabin sold over two million copies within two years of its publication in 1853. In the first three years after its publication, fourteen proslavery novels were written to contradict the book's antislavery messages. A more subtle undermining of Stowe's portrayal of slavery occurred on entertainment stages. By 1879 there were at least forty-nine traveling companies performing Uncle Tom's Cabin throughout the United States (Turner, 1994, p. 78). The stage versions, often called Tom Shows, differed from Stowe's book in significant ways. Little Eva was now the star; all other characters were relegated to the periphery. The violence inherent in slavery was understated. In some instances the brutality was ignored completely. Slaves were depicted as "happy darkies" living under a benevolent, paternalistic system. Legree was mean but not a brute, and in some Tom shows he was portrayed as doing Tom a favor by killing him -- since Tom could not enter heaven unless he died.


    The stage Toms represented a major, and demeaning, departure from the original Uncle Tom. Stowe's Tom was an obedient, loyal, non-complaining slave, but he was not weak or docile. Tom resisted Legree. He gave his life rather than help Legree find the two women runaways. Stowe painted a slave with dignity -- a slave who dared to pity his master. Throughout the novel, Tom is venerable and kind. His theology, though simple, is fully developed and consistent. He is a man of principle. Patricia Turner, author of Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies (1994), wrote:

    Further marked inconsistencies are discernible between the values and principles of the reconstructed Uncle Tom and Stowe's original hero. Both are devout, stalwart Christians. Both are unflinching in their loyalty. But the reconstructed Uncle Toms are passive, docile, unthinking Christians. Loyal and faithful to white employers, they are duplicitous in their dealings with fellow blacks. Stowe's Tom is a proactive Christian warrior. He does more than accept ? 's will, he endeavors to fulfill it in all of his words and deeds. He is loyal to each of his white masters, even the cruel Simon Legree. Yet his allegiance to his fellow slaves is equally strong. (p. 73)

    The versions of Uncle Tom that entertained audiences on stages were drained of these noble traits. He was an unthinking religious slave, sometimes happy, often fearful. Significantly, the stage Toms were middle-aged or elderly. He was shown stooped, often with a cane or stick. He was thin, almost emaciated. His eyesight was failing. These depictions of Uncle Tom are inconsistent with Stowe's Tom who was a "broad-chested, strong armed fellow." Stowe's original was the father of small children, unlike the desexed Toms of the stage. Stowe's Tom was capable of outworking most slaves. Patricia Turner says of Stowe:

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    By depicting his ability to save a child's life and work long days in the field, she delivers a brave, physically capable hero whose abilities contradict the lazy slave stereotype then being actively promoted by pro-slavery Southerners. The elderly, stooped-over, slow-moving Uncle Tom of contemporary popular culture could never have fulfilled the political ends sought by Stowe. (p. 73)

    Cinematic Uncle Toms

    Portrayals of Uncle Tom in movies also departed from Stowe's original. In 1903, Edwin S. Porter directed a twelve-minute version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. This was the first black character in an American film; ironically, Uncle Tom was played by an unnamed white actor colored with blackface makeup. Porter's Uncle Tom, like the Toms on stage, was a childlike, groveling servant. In the first quarter of the 20th century there were many cinematic adaptations of Uncle Tom's Cabin which portrayed slavery as a benevolent institution, Little Eva as an earthly angel, and blacks, especially Tom, as loyal, childlike, unthinking, and happy. In 1914, a black actor, Sam Lucas, was allowed to play the Uncle Tom role in a film (Ritchey & Daly). His advanced age -- he was seventy-two -- helped perpetuate the perception that Uncle Tom was old and physically weak. In 1927 Universal Pictures remade Uncle Tom's Cabin (Pollard) and used the black actor James B. Lowe in the title role. The Toms played by Lucas and Lowe, like the many Toms played by white actors in blackface makeup, were genial, passive, happy servants.

    Uncle Tom was not the only Tom depicted in early American movies. Indeed, the Tom character was a staple of the movie screen and, later, television shows. In the silent short film Confederate Spy (Olcott, 1910), Uncle Daniel, a Tom character, is a southern black spy. He is caught and brought before a Union firing squad. He has no regrets facing death because he "did it for ? 's sake and for little ? " (Bogle, 1994, p. 6). In For ? 's Sake (Golden, 1911), a former slave is so attached to his former master that he sells himself back into slavery to help pay the white man's debts (Bogle, p. 6). The Birth of a Nation (Griffith, 1915) and Hearts in Dixie (Sloane, 1929) have numerous anti-black caricatures, including Toms who adore their masters.


    In the 1930s and 1940s black male actors were limited to two stereotypical roles: ? such as Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, and Willie Best; and Toms, of whom the most notable were Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Clarence Muse, and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. Robinson is best known as child star Shirley Temple's dance partner. They appeared in four films together, including The Littlest Rebel (DeSylva & Butler, 1935). Robinson plays the role of Uncle Billy, a good-natured, well-mannered Tom. Temple plays Virginia Houston Cary, the feisty young daughter of Captain Cary of the Confederate Army. Captain Cary goes off to battle. The Cary plantation is invaded by Union soldiers. Virginia's mother becomes ill and soon dies. Captain Cary returns home and is taken prisoner. He is tried for treason. Uncle Billy helps little Virginia escape. The pair earn their fare to Washington by dancing and "passing the cap." Miraculously, they gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln who pardons Virginia's father. Robinson also portrayed genial, loyal servants in The Little Colonel (DeSylva & Butler, 1935) with Temple and Lionel Barrymore, In Old Kentucky (Butcher & Marshall, 1935) with Will Rogers, and Just Around the Corner (Hempstead & Cummings, 1938) with Temple.

    Clarence Muse was a graduate of the Dickinson School of Law in Philadelphia and he had formal theatrical training; nevertheless, his career is noted for portrayals of ? and Toms, especially the latter. He played Tom roles in Show Boat (Laemmle & Whale, 1936), Follow Your Heart (Levine & Scotto, 1936), Zanzibar (Douglas & Schuster, 1940), Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch, 1943), Joe Palooka in the Knockout (Chester & Le Borg, 1947), and Riding High (Capra, 1950). The Tom role, like most of the early black stereotypes, suggested that blacks were one-dimensional. Muse's Toms were thoughtful and often articulate servants. Bogle calls him the "dignified, humanized tom" (1994, p. 54).

    Eddie Anderson played the Tom role in Jezebel (Wyler, 1938) and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (Cowan & Marshall, 1939), but he is best known as Jack Benny's raspy voiced manservant Rochester. The pair appeared in movies, for example, Love Thy Neighbor (Sandrich, 1940), and The Meanest Man in the World (Perlberg & Lanfield, 1943), radio programs, and a long-running television program. Their on-screen relationship was characterized by good natured struggles, with Rochester often besting his "Boss." Rochester was one of the first black characters to "show up" his white employer; nevertheless, the role still fits into the Tom stereotype, albeit with elements of shrewdness and rebellion.

    The 1930s and 1940s were the heyday for cinematic Tom depictions. Virtually every film that dealt with slavery included Toms. The still popular Gone With the Wind (Selznick & Fleming, 1939) included the Tom character Pork, a pathetic man, his back stooped, his speech halted, afraid of whites, yet desiring, above all, to please them. Pork is a marginal character. In later movies Toms would be even more marginalized, many lacking names. ? played the role of comic relief. Toms symbolized wealth. Producers who wanted to show that a family had "old money" often surrounded the family with black servants. Toms also suggested a nostalgic social order. Toms represented the supposed "good ol' days" before the civil rights and black power movements.

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014

    Sidney Poitier, the leading black male actor of the 1960s, also played roles that approximated the Tom stereotype, even though his characters were never one dimensional. Poitier did not play characters that were submissive, cheerful servants, but many of his characters were white-identified. In Edge of the City (Susskind & Ritt, 1957) Poitier sacrifices his life, and in The Defiant Ones (Kramer, 1958) Poitier sacrifices his freedom, for white males. Like the black servants of old, his characters worked to improve the lives of whites. In Lilies of the Field (Nelson, 1963) he helps refugee nuns build a chapel; in The Slender Thread (Alexander & Pollack, 1965) he works to help a suicidal woman; in A Patch of Blue (Berman & Green, 1965) he aids a young blind woman who does not know he is black; in To Sir With Love (Clavell, 1967) he tries to teach working class youth, almost all white, to value education. In the last, some of the students racially taunt him; eventually he loses his composure. Later, he berates himself for having displayed anger. Reluctance to fight back is reminiscent of earlier Tom portrayals, for example, Bill Robinson's character in The Little Colonel, who stands patiently and silently as he is insulted by the white master. Bogle (1994) describes Poitier's roles this way:

    They were mild-mannered toms, throwbacks to the humanized Christian servants of the 1930s. When insulted or badgered, the Poitier character stood by and took it. He knew the white world meant him no real harm. He differed from the old servants only in that he was governed by a code of decency, duty, and moral intelligence. There were times in his films when he screamed out in rage at the injustices of a racist white society. But reason always dictated his actions, along with love for his fellow man. (p. 176)

    Poitier's characters, like earlier Toms, were also denied sex lives. In many of his roles he has no wife or girlfriend, and, when he did have romantic relationships, they were drained of sexual tension and fulfillment. In A Raisin in the Sun (Gilbert, Rose, Susskind & Petrie, 1961) there are no romantic scenes with his black wife. In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Kramer, 1967) he only kisses his white fiance once, and the audience sees the kiss through a cabdriver's rear view mirror. (1) In A Patch of Blue he kisses the white romantic interest once, then sacrifices any amorous possibilities by arranging for her to leave for a school for the blind.

    Poitier's Toms are best described as "Enlightened Toms." In many of his films he is the smartest, most articulate character -- and, more importantly, the one who delves into the philosophical issues: egalitarianism, humanitarianism, and altruism. Moreover, he acts upon these philosophical musings. He is a paragon of saintly virtue, sacrificing for others, who, not coincidentally, are often white.

    Morgan Freeman's character, Hoke, in Driving Miss Daisy (Zanuck, Zanuck & Beresford, 1989) is reminiscent of Poitier's Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field. Neither Hoke nor Homer has a life apart from whites. We know little of either character's experiences or hopes. They live to solve the problems of the white characters; and, of course, both are desexed. Although neither Hoke nor Homer Smith is a fully developed character, both are preferable to Big George in Fried Green Tomatoes (Avnet, Kemer & Avnet, 1991). Big George is a pliant, obedient, one-dimensional servant, a relic.

    1. Nevertheless this movie broke new ground. The romantic pairing of a black man with a white woman was still controversial in the 1960s. Indeed, it was not until 1967, in Lovings v. Virginia, that the United States Supreme Court ruled laws which forbade interracial marriages to be unconstitutional.
  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    Commercial Toms


    The list of Toms who have been used to sell products is too long to exhaust here. In the 1890s Dixon's Carburet of Iron Stove Polish used "Uncle Obadiah" in their advertisements. He is elderly, frail, with ragged clothes, but he is smiling. In the 1920s Schulze Baking Company used the image of an old banjo-strumming Tom on its advertisement selling Uncle Wabash Cupcakes. In the 1940s Listerine used a black porter in its magazine advertisements, and Mil-Kay Vitamin Drinks used a smiling black waiter on its posters and billboards. A 1950s souvenir tip tray from The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, shows a smiling black waiter balancing plates on his head. In the 1940s Converted Rice changed the name of its major product to Uncle Ben's Brand Rice, and began using the image of a smiling, elderly black man on its package. Arguably the most enduring commercial Tom is "Rastus," the Cream of Wheat Cook.

    Rastus was created in 1893 by Emery Mapes, one of the owners of North Dakota's Diamond Milling Company. (2) He wanted a likable image to help sell packages of "breakfast porridge." Mapes, a former printer, remembered the image of a black chef among his stock of old printing blocks. He made a template of the chef and named the product Cream of Wheat. The original logo showed a black chef holding a skillet in one hand and a bowl of Cream of Wheat in the other (Siegel, 1992). This logo was used until the 1920s when Mapes, impressed by the "wholesome" looks of a Chicago waiter serving him breakfast, created a new chef. The waiter was paid five dollars to pose as the second Rastus in a chef's hat and jacket. The image of this unknown man has appeared, with only slight modifications, on Cream of Wheat boxes for almost ninety years.


    Rastus, like Aunt Jemima, is more than a company trademark -- he is arguably a cultural icon. Rastus is marketed as a symbol of wholeness and stability. The toothy, well-dressed black chef happily serves breakfast to a nation. In 1898 Cream of Wheat began advertising in national magazines. These advertisements were often reproduced as posters. Many of those advertisements are, by today's standards, racially insensitive. For example, a 1915 Cream of Wheat poster shows "Uncle Sam" looking at a picture of Rastus holding a bowl of the cereal. The caption reads "Well, You're Helping Some!" This may have been a suggestion that blacks were contributing little to the war effort. A 1921 Cream of Wheat poster shows a young white boy sitting in a rickshaw that is being pulled by an elderly black man. The man has stopped to smoke. The smiling boy, waving a whip-like stick, says, "Giddap, Uncle." Often Rastus is portrayed as barely literate. In a 1921 advertisement, Rastus, smiling, his gums showing, holds a sign which reads:

    Maybe Cream of Wheat
    aint got no vitamines.
    I dont know what them
    things is. If they's bugs
    they aint none in Cream of
    Wheat but she's sho' good
    to eat and cheap. Costs 'bout
    1¢ fo a great big dish.

    2. The name Rastus is probably derived from Eratus, both were fairly common names for American blacks at the end of the 1800s. Rastus appears in many anti-black jokes before the 1960s.
  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    Uncle Tom as Opprobrium

    In many African American communities "Uncle Tom" is a slur used to disparage a black person who is humiliatingly subservient or deferential to white people. Derived from Stowe's character, the modern use is a ? of her original portrayal.The contemporary use of the slur has two variations. Version A is the black person who is a docile, loyal, religious, contented servant who accommodates himself to a lowly status. Version B is the ambitious black person who subordinates himself in order to achieve a more favorable status within the dominant society. In both instances, the person is believed to overly identify with whites, in Version A because of fear, in Version B because of opportunism. This latter use is more common today.

    "Uncle Tom," unlike most anti-black slurs, is primarily used by blacks against blacks. Its synonyms include "oreo," "sell-out," "uncle," "race-traitor," and "white man's ? ." It is an in-group term used as a social control mechanism. Garth Baker-Fletcher (1993) has said,

    The "Uncle Tom" appellation is the feared curse of every African American who is compelled to work under whites, while simultaneously holding a position of authority over other African Americans. Thus "Uncle Tom" can be pulled out by blacks as a superior ideological weapon to enforce patterns of racial unity against the perceived threats of a white boss. (p. 39)

    Black political conservatives, especially Republicans, are often labeled "Uncle Toms" or "Toms." Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Alan Keyes, the Republican presidential candidate; Shelby Steele, the professor and author; Thomas Sowell, the economist; and Walter Williams, the neighborhood activist, have all been publicly called "Uncle Toms." They are accused of being white-identified opportunists. Their motives are impugned. The November 1996 issue of Emerge magazine had a cover with Justice Thomas dressed as a lawn jockey and these words: "Uncle Thomas, Lawn Jockey for the Far Right." Inside the magazine a grinning Justice Thomas shines Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's shoes.

    Black public figures who oppose affirmative action or busing are often accused of pleasing whites only to elevate themselves -- socially, politically, and economically. They publicly say about race what conservative whites dare not say: crime and welfare are black phenomena, affirmative action is reverse discrimination, and white racism is not the cause of black problems. They wear the "Uncle Tom" label as a badge -- at least publicly. To their opponents these men represent Version B Uncle Toms.


    Civil rights leaders of the 1960s were called Uncle Toms by more militant blacks. Whitney Young, Executive Director of the Urban League from 1961 to 1971, was a "radical integrationist." His willingness to work with whites led to charges that he was an "Uncle Tom." Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s unwillingness to advocate retaliatory violence led Stokely Carmichael to accuse him of "Uncle Tomism." Bayard Rustin, one of the chief tacticians of the Civil Rights Movement, was also called an "Uncle Tom" by black militants ("Bayard Rustin Obituary", 1987). Roy Wilkins was called an "Uncle Tom" because he publicly stated that blacks could achieve political power "in the system." Civil rights leaders were judged to be too passive, too religious, too eager to integrate -- too much like the stereotypical Version A "Uncle Tom." Older, more established blacks have often been accused of being too conservative, too passive, and too desirous of white approval. In the 1950s Louis Armstrong was called an "Uncle Tom" by young bebop musicians.

    Sports champions, especially those who publicly express conservative political views, run the risk of being labeled "Uncle Toms." After retiring from baseball, Jackie Robinson wrote a newspaper column about civil rights issues. He was vilified in the black community when he announced that he was a "Rockefeller Republican." Arthur Ashe, the tennis champion and human rights activist, was called an "Uncle Tom" for playing in the South African Open tennis tournament in 1973. His participation was seen as supporting apartheid. Muhammad Ali routinely berated his black opponents as "Uncle Toms." In 1965 Ali fought Floyd Patterson, a devout Christian and staunch integrationist. Patterson used these words to criticize Ali for becoming a Black Muslim:

    Cassius Clay [Ali's former name] is disgracing himself and the ? race. No decent person can look up to a champion whose credo is "hate whites." I have nothing but contempt for the Black Muslims and that for which they stand. The image of a Black Muslim as the world heavyweight champion disgraces the sport and the nation. Cassius Clay must be beaten and the Black Muslims' scourge removed from boxing. (Goldberg, 1997)

    Ali not only called Patterson an "Uncle Tom" and "the technicolor white hope," but he predicted: "I'm gonna put him flat on his back, so that he will start acting Black; because when he was champ he didn't do as he should, he tried to force himself into an all-White neighborhood" (Goldberg). During the fight -- a one-sided bout -- Ali toyed with Patterson. Ali threw both punches and the slur, "white ? ."

    In February, 1967, Ali's opponent was Ernie Terrell. At the pre-fight press conferences Terrell repeatedly called Ali by his given name: Cassius Clay. Ali promised to beat Terrell until he addressed him properly. (3) In a fight which Sports Illustrated (Maule, 1967) described as "a wonderful demonstration of boxing skill and a barbarous display of cruelty," Ali beat Terrell while shouting, "What's my name, 'Uncle Tom,' what's my name?" Before their first fight, on March 8, 1971, Ali called Joe Frazier an "Uncle Tom" and said that whites would be cheering for Frazier (Cassidy, 1999). He also used the slur against Joe Louis because of Louis' passive political stances.


    In recent years the "Uncle Tom" slur has been directed against Christopher Darden, the black member of the prosecution's team in the O.J. Simpson murder trial; Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer; Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz basketball player; and Colin Powell. Cornell West, the author of Race Matters (1993) and a lifelong civil rights activist, was called an "Uncle Tom" by the African United Front (1993) because of his "support" of Jews. The "Uncle Tom" slur has even been appropriated by other ethnic groups to exert in-group pressures on their members. A Native American, for example, who is believed to be too friendly with or admiring of whites, is called an "Uncle Tomahawk"; Chinese Americans use the term "Uncle Tong." Even W.E.B. DuBois, arguably the greatest, most sustained civil rights voice of the 20th Century, was called an "Uncle Tom" -- by Marcus Garvey, who added that DuBois was "purely and simply a white man's ? " (Williams, 1997). (4)

    © Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology
    Ferris State University
    Dec., 2000
    Edited 2012

    3. Ali used this tactic to motivate himself. Terrell, a fine fighter, was the underdog.

    4. Williams has also been publicly called an Uncle Tom because of his political conservatism.
  • Elzo69Renaissance
    Elzo69Renaissance Members Posts: 50,708 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Ok bout to put a pause on my day and read this
  • Ajackson17
    Ajackson17 Members Posts: 22,501 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Propaganda, make the lie big, make it simple and keep on saying it.
  • janklow
    janklow Members, Moderators Posts: 8,613 Regulator
    this is your daily reminder that Ali was way, way out of line regarding Frazier
  • R0mp
    R0mp Members Posts: 4,250 ✭✭✭✭✭
    janklow wrote: »
    this is your daily reminder that Ali was way, way out of line regarding Frazier

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    ? and Caricatures (1)


    There is a direct and strong link between the word ? and anti-black caricatures. Although ? has been used to refer to any person of known African ancestry. (2) it is usually directed against blacks who supposedly have certain negative characteristics. The ? caricature, for example, portrays black men as lazy, ignorant, and obsessively self-indulgent; these are also traits historically represented by the word ? . The Brute caricature depicts black men as angry, physically strong, animalistic, and prone to wanton violence. This depiction is also implied in the word ? . The Tom and Mammy caricatures are often portrayed as kind, loving "friends" of whites. They are also presented as intellectually childlike, physically unattractive, and neglectful of their biological families. These latter traits have been associated with blacks, generally, and are implied in the word ? . The word ? was a shorthand way of saying that blacks possessed the moral, intellectual, social, and physical characteristics of the ? , Brute, Tom, Mammy, and other racial caricatures.

    The etymology of ? is often traced to the Latin niger, meaning black. The Latin niger became the noun ? (black person) in English, and simply the color black in Spanish and Portuguese. In Early Modern French niger became negre and, later, negress (black woman) was clearly a part of lexical history. One can compare to negre the derogatory ? – and earlier English variants such as negar, neegar, neger, and niggor – which developed into a parallel lexico-semantic reality in English. It is likely that ? is a phonetic spelling of the white Southern mispronunciation of ? . Whatever its origins, by the early 1800s it was firmly established as a denigrative epithet. Almost two centuries later, it remains a chief symbol of white racism.

    Social scientists refer to words like ? , ? , ? , and ? as ethnophaulisms. Such terms are the language of prejudice – verbal pictures of negative stereotypes. Howard J. Ehrlich, a social scientist, argued that ethnophaulisms are of three types: disparaging nicknames (? , ? , ? , and so forth); explicit group devaluations ("Jew him down," or "niggering the land"); and irrelevant ethnic names used as a mild disparagement ("jewbird" for cuckoos having prominent beaks or "Irish confetti" for bricks thrown in a fight)(Ehrlich, 1973, p. 22; Schaefer, 2000, p. 44). All racial and ethnic groups have been victimized by racial slurs; however, no American group has suffered as many racial epithets as have blacks: ? , tom, savage, picanniny, mammy, buck, ? , ? , and buckwheat are typical. (3) Many of these slurs became fully developed pseudo-scientific, literary, cinematic, and everyday caricatures of African Americans. These caricatures, whether spoken, written, or reproduced in material objects, reflect the extent, the vast network, of anti-black prejudice.

    The word ? carries with it much of the hatred and repulsion directed toward Africans and African Americans. Historically, ? defined, limited, and mocked African Americans. It was a term of exclusion, a verbal justification for discrimination. Whether used as a noun, verb, or adjective, it reinforced the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, ? , worthless parasite. No other American ethnophaulism carried so much purposeful venom, as the following representative list suggests:

    ? , v. To wear out, spoil or destroy.

    Niggerish, adj. Acting in an indolent and irresponsible manner.

    Niggerlipping, v. Wetting the end of a cigarette while smoking it.

    Niggerlover, n. Derogatory term aimed at whites lacking in the necessary loathing of blacks.

    ? luck, n. Exceptionally good luck, emphasis on undeserved.

    ? -flicker, n. A small knife or razor with one side heavily taped to preserve the user's fingers.

    ? heaven, n. a designated place, usually the balcony, where blacks were forced to sit, for example, in an integrated movie theater or church.

    ? knocker, n. axe handle or weapon made from an axe handle.

    ? rich, adj, Deeply in debt but ostentatious.

    ? shooter, n. A slingshot.

    ? steak, n. a slice of liver or a cheap piece of meat.

    ? stick, n. police officer's baton.

    ? tip, n. leaving a small tip or no tip in a restaurant.

    ? in the woodpile, n. a concealed motive or unknown factor affecting a situation in an adverse way.

    ? work, n. Demeaning, menial tasks.(Green, 1984, p. 190)

    ? has been used to describe a dark shade of color (? -brown, ? -black), the status of whites who interacted with blacks (? -breaker, -dealer, -driver, -killer, -stealer, -worshipper, and -looking), and anything belonging to or associated with African Americans (? -baby, -boy, -girl, -mouth, -feet, -preacher, -job, -love, -culture, -college, -music, and so forth). (4) ? is the ultimate American insult; it is used to offend other ethnic groups, as when Jews are called white-? ; Arabs, sandniggers; or Japanese, yellow-? .

    Americans created a racial hierarchy with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. The hierarchy was undergirded by an ideology which justified the use of deceit, manipulation, and coercion to keep blacks "in their place." Every major societal institution offered legitimacy to the racial hierarchy. Ministers preached that ? had condemned blacks to be servants. Scientists measured black heads, brains, faces, and genitalia, seeking to prove that whites were genetically superior to blacks. White teachers, teaching only white students, taught that blacks were less evolved cognitively, psychologically, and socially. The entertainment media, from vaudeville to television, portrayed blacks as docile servants, happy-go-lucky idiots, and dangerous thugs. The criminal justice system sanctioned a double standard of justice, including its tacit approval of mob violence against blacks.

    1. An earlier version of this paper, entitled "Purposeful Venom Revisited," was published in Matthews (1999, pp. 91-93). David Pilgrim is a sociologist; Phillip Middleton is a linguist.

    2. Dictionaries typically defined ? as a synonym for ? , Black, or dark-skinned people. See, for example, Wentworth (1944, p. 412). Recent dictionaries are more likely to mention that ? is a term of contempt. Please read Williams (2001).

    3. Even innocent words - boy, girl, and uncle - took on racist meanings when applied to blacks.

    4. For a brief analysis of these terms see, Simpson (1989, pp. 401-405).

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014


    Both American slavery and the Jim Crow caste system which followed were undergirded by anti-black images. The negative portrayals of blacks were both reflected in and shaped by everyday material objects: toys, postcards, ashtrays, detergent boxes, fishing lures, children's books. These items, and countless others, portrayed blacks with bulging, darting eyes, fire-red and oversized lips, jet black skin, and either naked or poorly clothed. The majority of these objects did not use the word ? ; however, many did. In 1874, the McLoughlin Brothers of New York manufactured a puzzle game called "Chopped Up ? ." Beginning in 1878, the B. Leidersdory Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, produced NiggerHair Smoking Tobacco - several decades later the name was changed to BiggerHair Smoking Tobacco. In 1917, the American Tobacco Company had a NiggerHair redemption promotion. NiggerHair coupons were redeemable for "cash, tobacco, S. & H. Green stamps, or presents."

    A 1916 magazine advertisement, copyrighted by Morris & Bendien, showed a black child drinking ink. The caption read, "? Milk."


    The J. Millhoff Company of England produced a series of cards (circa 1930s), which were widely distributed in the United States. One of the cards shows ten small black dogs with the caption: "Ten Little ? Boys Went Out To Dine." This is the first line from the popular children's story "The Ten Little ? ."

    Ten Little ? Boys went out to dine;
    One choked his little self, and then there were Nine.
    Nine Little ? Boys sat up very late;
    One overslept himself, and then there were Eight.
    Eight Little ? Boys traveling in Devon;
    One said he'd stay there, and then there were Seven.
    Seven Little ? Boys chopping up sticks;
    One chopped himself in halves, and then there were Six.
    Six Little ? Boys playing with a hive;
    A Bumble-Bee stung one, and then there were Five.
    Five Little ? Boys going in for Law;
    One got in Chancery, and then there were Four.
    Four Little ? Boys going out to Sea;
    A Red Herring swallowed one, and then there were Three.
    Three Little ? Boys walking in the Zoo;
    The big Bear hugged one, and then there were Two;
    Two Little ? Boys sitting in the Sun;
    One got frizzled up, and then there was One.
    One Little ? Boy living all alone;
    He got married, and then there were None.(Jolly Jingles, n.d.)


    In 1939, Agatha Christie, the popular fiction writer, published a novel called Ten Little ? . Later editions sometimes changed the name to Ten Little Indians, or And Then There Were None, but as late as 1978, copies of the book with the original title were being produced into the 1980s. It was not rare for sheet music produced in the first half of the 20th century to use the word ? on the cover. The Howley, Haviland Company of New York, produced sheet music for the songs "Hesitate Mr. ? , Hesitate," and "You'se Just A Little ? , Still You'se Mine, All Mine." The latter was billed as a children's lullaby.


    Some small towns used ? in their names, for example, ? Run Fork, Virginia. ? was a common name for darkly colored pets, especially dogs, cats, and horses. So-called "Jolly ? Banks," first made in the 1800s, were widely distributed as late as the 1960s. Another common item - with many variants, produced on posters, postcards, and prints - is a picture of a dozen black children rushing for a swimming hole. The captions read, "Last One In's A ? ."

    The racial hierarchy, which began during slavery and extended into the Jim Crow period, has been severely eroded by a civil rights movement, landmark Supreme Court decisions, a black empowerment movement, comprehensive civil rights legislation, and a general embracing of democratic principles by many American citizens. Yet, the word ? has not died. The relationship between the word ? and anti-black prejudice is symbiotic: that is, they are interrelated and interconnected, yet, ironically, not automatically interdependent. In other words, a racist society created ? and continues to feed and sustain it; however, the word no longer needs racism, at least brutal and obvious forms, to exist. ? now has a life of its own.

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014

    One of the most interesting and perplexing phenomena in American speech is the use of ? by African Americans. When used by blacks, ? refers to the following: all blacks ("A ? can't even get a break."); black men ("Sisters want ? to work all day long."); blacks who behave in a stereotypical, and sometimes mythical, manner ("He's a lazy, good-for-nothing ? ."); things ("This piece-of-? car is such a ? ."); foes ("I'm sick and tired of those ? bothering me!"); and friends ("Me and my ? are tight.").

    This final usage, as a term of endearment, is especially problematic.
    "Sup ? ," has become an almost universal greeting among young urban blacks. When pressed, blacks who use ? or its variants claim the following: it has to be understood contextually; continual use of the word by blacks will make it less offensive; it is not really the same word because whites are saying ? (and ? ) but blacks are saying nigh (and ? ); and, it is just a word and blacks should not be prisoners of the past or the ugly words which originated in the past. These arguments are not convincing. Brother (Brotha) and Sister (Sistha or Sista) are terms of endearment. ? was and remains a term of derision. Moreover, the false dichotomy between blacks or African Americans (respectable and middle-class) and ? (disrespectable and lower class) should be opposed. No blacks are ? , irrespective of behavior, income, ambition, clothing, ability, morals, or skin color. Finally, if continued use of the word lessened its sting then ? would by now have no sting. Blacks, beginning in slavery, have internalized the negative images that white society cultivated and propagated about black skin and black people. This is reflected in periods of self- and same-race loathing. The use of the word ? by blacks reflects this loathing, even when the user is unaware of the psychological forces at play. ? is the ultimate expression of white racism and white superiority no matter how it is pronounced. It is a linguistic corruption, a corruption of civility. ? is the most infamous word in American culture. Some words carry more weight than others. At the risk of hyperbole, is genocide just another word? ? ? Obviously, no: neither is ? .

    After a period of relative dormancy, the word ? has been reborn in popular culture. It is hard-edged, streetwise, and it has crossed over into movies like Pulp Fiction (? & Tarantino, 1994) and Jackie Brown (? & Tarantino, 1997), where it became a symbol of "street authenticity" and hipness. Denzel Washington's character in Training Day (Newmyer, Silver & Fuqua, 2001) uses ? frequently and harshly.


    Richard Pryor long ago disavowed the use of the word in his comedy act, but Chris Rock and Chris Tucker, the new black male comedy kings, use ? regularly - and not affectionately. Justin Driver (2001), a social critic, argued persuasively that both Rock and Tucker are modern minstrels - shucking, jiving, and grinning, in the tradition of Stepin Fetchit.

    Poetry by African Americans is also instructive, as one finds ? used in black poetry over and over again. Major and minor poets alike have used it, often with startling results: Imamu Amiri Baraka, one of the most gifted of our contemporary poets, uses ? in one of his angriest poems, "I Don't Love You."

    . . .and what was the world to the words of slick ? fathers too depressed to explain why they could not appear to be men. (1969, p. 55)

    One wonders: how are readers supposed to understand "? fathers"? Baraka's use of this imagery, regardless of his intention, reinforces the stereotype of the worthless, hedonistic ? caricature. Ted Joans's use of ? in "The Nice Colored Man" makes Baraka's comparatively harmless and innocent. Joans tells the story about how he came to write this unusual piece. He was, he says, asked to give a reading in London because he was a "nice colored man." Infuriated by the labels "nice" and "colored", Joans set down the quintessential truculent poem. While the poem should be read in its entirety, a few lines will suffice:

    . . .Smart Black ? Smart Black ? Smart Black ? Smart Black ? Knife Carrying ? Gun Toting ? Military ? Clock Watching ? Poisoning ? Disgusting ? Black Ass ? . . . (Henderson, 1972, pp. 223-225)

    This is the poem, with adjective upon adjective attached to the word ? . The shocking reality is that many of these uses can be heard in contemporary American society. Herein lies part of the problem: the word ? persists because it is used over and over again, even by the people it defames. Devorah Major, a poet and novelist, said, "It's hard for me to say what someone can or can't say, because I work with language all the time, and I don't want to be limited." Opal Palmer Adisa, a poet and professor, claims that the use of ? or ? is "the same as young people's obsession with cursing. A lot of their use of such language is an internalization of negativity about themselves." (Allen-Taylor, 1998).

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014

    Rap musicians, themselves poets, rap about ? before mostly white audiences, some of whom see themselves as waggers (white ? ) and refer to one another as "my nigh." Snoop Doggy Dogg, in his single, "You Thought," raps,

    "Wanna grab a skinny nigha like Snoop Dogg
    Cause you like it tall
    and work it baby doll

    Tupac Shakur (1991), one of the most talented and popular rap musicians, had a song called "Crooked Ass ? ." The song's lyrics included, "

    Now I could be a crooked ? too
    When I'm rollin' with my crew
    Watch what crooked ? do
    I got a nine millimeter Glock pistol
    I'm ready to get with you at the tip of a whistle
    So make your move and act like you wanna flip
    I fired thirteen shots and popped another clip

    Rap lyrics which debase women and glamorize violence reinforce the historical Brute caricature

    Erdman Palmore (1962) researched ethnophaulisms and made the following observations: the number of ethnophaulisms used correlates positively with the amount of out-group prejudice; and ethnophaulisms express and support negative stereotypes about the most visible racial and cultural differences.


    White supremacists have found the Internet an indispensable tool for spreading their message of hate. An Internet search of ? locates many anti-black web pages: ? Must Die, Hang A ? For America, ? Joke Central, and literally thousands of others. Visitors to these sites know, like most blacks know experientially, that ? is an expression of anti-black antipathy. Is it surprising that ? is the most commonly used racist slur during hate crimes?

    No American minority group has been caricatured as often, in as many ways, as have blacks. These caricatures combined distorted physical descriptions and negative cultural and behavior stereotypes. The ? caricature, for example, was a tall, skinny, loose-jointed, dark-skinned male, often bald, with oversized, ruby-red lips. His clothing was either ragged and ? or outlandishly gaudy. His slow, exaggerated gait suggested laziness. He was a pauper, lacking ambition and the skills necessary for upward social mobility. He was a buffoon. When frightened, the ? 's eyes bulged and darted. His speech was slurred, halted, and replete with malapropisms. His shrill, high-pitched voice made whites laugh. The ? caricature dehumanized blacks, and served as a justification for social, economic, and political discrimination.

    ? may be viewed as an umbrella term - a way of saying that blacks have the negative characteristics of the ? , Buck, Tom, Mammy, ? , Picaninny, and other anti-black caricatures. ? , like the caricatures it encompasses and implies, belittles blacks, and rationalizes their mistreatment. The use of the word or its variants by blacks has not significantly lessened its sting. This is not surprising. The historical relationship between European Americans and African Americans was shaped by a racial hierarchy which spanned three centuries. Anti-black attitudes, values, and behavior were normative. Historically, ? more than any word captured the personal antipathy and institutionalized racism directed toward blacks. It still does.

    © Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology, and Dr. Phillip Middleton, Professor of Languages and Literature,
    Ferris State University.
    Sept., 2001
    Edited 2012

  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    The Sapphire Caricture


    The Sapphire Caricature portrays black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.(1) This is the Angry Black Woman (ABW) popularized in the cinema and on television. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip and the other pointing and jabbing (or arms akimbo), violently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing white women. She is a shrill nagger with irrational states of anger and indignation and is often mean-spirited and abusive. Although African American men are her primary targets, she has venom for anyone who insults or disrespects her. The Sapphire's desire to dominate and her hyper-sensitivity to injustices make her a perpetual complainer, but she does not criticize to improve things; rather, she criticizes because she is unendingly bitter and wishes that unhappiness on others. The Sapphire Caricature is a harsh portrayal of African American women, but it is more than that; it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish black women who violate the societal norms that encourage them to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen.


    Sapphire Stevens

    From the 1800s through the mid-1900s, black women were often portrayed in popular culture as "Sassy Mammies" who ran their own homes with iron fists, including berating black husbands and children. These women were allowed, at least symbolically, to defy some racial norms. During the Jim Crow period, when real blacks were often beaten, jailed, or killed for arguing with whites, fictional Mammies were allowed to pretend-chastise whites, including men. Their sassiness was supposed to indicate that they were accepted as members of the white family, and acceptance of that sassiness implied that slavery and segregation were not overly oppressive. A well-known example of a Sassy Mammy was Hattie McDaniel, a black actress who played feisty, quick-tempered mammies in many movies, including Judge Priest (Wurtzel & Ford, 1934), Music is Magic (Stone & Marshall, 1935), The Little Colonel (DeSylva & Butler, 1935), Alice Adams (Berman & Stevens, 1935), Saratoga (Hyman & Conway, 1937), The Mad Miss Manton (Wolfson & Jason, 1938), and Gone With the Wind (Selznick & Fleming, 1939). In these roles she was sassy (borderline impertinent) but always loyal. She was not a threat to the existing social order.

    It was not until the Amos 'n' Andy radio show that the characterization of African American women as domineering, aggressive, and emasculating shrews became popularly associated with the name Sapphire. The show was conceived by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white actors who portrayed the characters Amos Jones and Andy Brown by mimicking and mocking black behavior and dialect. At its best, Amos 'n' Andy was a situational comedy; at its worse, it was an auditory minstrel show. (2) The show, with a mostly-white cast, aired on the radio from 1928 to 1960, with intermittent interruptions. The television version of the show, with network television's first all-black cast, aired on CBS from 1951-53, with syndicated reruns from 1954 to 1966. It was removed, in large part, through the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the civil rights movement. Both as a radio show (3) and television show, Amos 'n' Andy was extremely popular, and this was unfortunate for African Americans because it popularized racial caricatures of blacks. Americans learned that blacks were comical, not as actors but as a race.


    Amos 'n Andy told stories about the everyday foibles of the members of the Mystic Knights of the Sea, a black fraternal lodge. The lead characters were Amos Jones, a Harlem taxi driver and his gullible friend, Andy Brown. Starring in a nontitle lead role was the character George "Kingfish" Stevens, the leader of the lodge. Many of the stories revolved around Kingfish, a get-rich-quick schemer and a con artist who avoided work, and, when possible, took financial advantage of the ignorance and naivete of Andy and others (see, for example, this clip from the episode Kingfish Sells a Lot). Kingfish was the prototypical ? , a lazy, easily confused, chronically unemployed, financially inept buffoon given to malapropisms. Kingfish was married to Sapphire Stevens who regularly berated him as a failure.

    Kingfish represented the worst in racial stereotyping; there was little redemptive about the character. His ignorance was highlighted by his nonsensical misuse of words, for example, ""I deny the allegation, Your Honor, and I resents the alligator," or "I'se regusted." Kingfish was not a good thinker or speaker. Even worse, he was a crook without scruples. He was too lazy to work and not above exploiting his wife and friends.

    In other words, he was a television embodiment of some of the unforgiving ideas that many Americans had about black men. Other characters, including Lightnin,' a Stepin Fetchit-like character on the show, had jobs and were honest, but Kingfish's worthlessness justified Sapphire's harsh critique of his life. It must be noted, that Sapphire Stevens directed her disgust at her husband; hers was not the generalized anger that is today associated with angry black women.

    1. In Yarbrough, M. with Bennett, C. (2000), the authors use these words to describe the Sapphire, "evil, ? , stubborn and hateful."

    2. Here is an example from the episode, 1930. I'se Regusted [Radio series episode]. In Amos 'n' Andy.

    (episode starts at approximately the 2:00 minute mark).

    3. The peak of the show's popularity was 1930-31, when it attracted an audience of between 30 and 40 million people a night, six nights a week -- representing an astounding a third of the entire population of the United States.
  • Maximus Rex
    Maximus Rex Members Posts: 6,354 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2014
    Later Sapphires in Situational Comedies

    Sue Jewell (1993), a sociologist, opined that the Sapphire image necessitates the presence of an African American man; "It is the African American male that represents the point of contention, in an ongoing verbal dual between Sapphire and the African American male ... (His) lack of integrity and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put downs" (p. 45). In the all-black or mostly-black situational comedies that have appeared on television from the 1970s to the present, the Sapphire is a stock character. Like Sapphire Stevens, she demeans and belittles lazy, ignorant, or otherwise flawed black male characters.

    Blacks on television have been overrepresented in situational comedies and underrepresented in dramatic series; one problem with this imbalance is that blacks in situational comedies are portrayed in racially stereotypical ways in order to get laughs. Canned laughter prompts the television audience to laugh as the angry black woman, the Sapphire, insults and mocks black males.


    Aunt Esther (also called Aunt Anderson) was a Sapphire character on the television situational comedy Sanford and Son, which premiered on NBC in 1972, with a final episode in 1977, and is still running in syndication. She was the Bible-swinging, angry nemesis and sister-in-law of the main character, Fred. Theirs was a love-mostly hate relationship. Fred would call Aunt Esther ugly and she would call him a "fish-eyed fool," an "old sucka," or a "beady-eyed heathen." Then, they would threaten to hit each other. Aunt Esther dominated her husband Woodrow, a mild-mannered alcoholic. In this latter relationship, you have the idea of the aggressive black woman dominating a weak, morally defective black man.

    The situational comedy Good Times aired between 1974 and 1979 on the CBS television network. The show followed the life of the Evans family in a Chicago housing project modeled on the infamous Cabrini-Green projects. This was one of the first times that a poor family had been highlighted in a weekly television series. Episodes of Good Times dealt with the Evans' attempts to survive despite living in suffocating poverty. There were several racial caricatures on the show, most notably the son, James Evans Jr. (also called J.J.), who devolved into a ? -like minstrel. After the first season the episodes increasingly focused on J.J.'s stereotypically buffoonish behavior. Esther Rolle, the actress who played the role of Florida Evans, the mother, expressed her dislike for J.J.'s character in a 1975 interview with Ebony magazine:

    "He's eighteen and he doesn't work. He can't read or write. He doesn't think. The show didn't start out to be that...Little by little-with the help of the artist, I suppose, because they couldn't do that to me -- they have made J.J. more stupid and enlarged the role. Negative images have been slipped in on us through the character of the oldest child."("Bad Times" 1975)

    In black-themed situational comedies when there is a ? character there is often a Sapphire character to mock him. In Good Times a character that bantered with and mocked J.J. was his sister, Thelma. A clearer example of a Sapphire, however, was the neighbor, Willona Woods, though she rarely targeted J.J. Instead, Willona belittled Nathan Bookman, the overweight superintendent, and she put down a series of worthless boyfriends, an ex-husband, politicians, and other men with questionable morals and work ethics.

    In situational comedies with a primarily black cast, the black male does not have to be lazy, thick-witted, or financially unsuccessful for him to be taunted by a Sapphire character. The Jeffersons, which aired from 1975 to 1985, focused on an upper-middle class family that had climbed up from the working class -- in the show's theme song there is the line, "We finally got a piece of the pie." George and Louise Jefferson were making so much money from their dry-cleaning businesses that they hired a housekeeper, Florence Johnston. Her relationship with George was often antagonistic and the back-talking, wisecracking, housekeeper approximated a Sapphire. She often teased George about his short stature, balding head, and decisions.

    Another example of a Sapphire was the character Pamela (Pam) James, who appeared on Martin, a situational comedy that aired from 1992 to 1997 on Fox. Pam was a badmouthed, wisecracking friend/foe of the lead character, Martin. Tichina Arnold, the actress who played Pam, plays Rochelle, a dominating, aggressive matriarch in the situational comedy, Everybody Hates Chris, which ran from 2005 to 2009, and is still aired on cable television. Arnold has mastered the role of the angry, black woman.

    Angry Black Women with Guns

    The film genre called blaxploitation emerged in the early 1970s. These movies, which targeted urban black audiences, exchanged one set of racial caricatures -- Mammy, Tom, Uncle, Picanninny -- for a new set of equally offensive racial caricatures -- Bucks (sex-crazed deviants) Brutes, (pimps, hit-men, and dope peddlers), and Nats (Whites-haters). One old caricature, the Jezebel, was revamped. The portrayal of African American women as hyper-sexual temptresses was as old as American slavery, but during the blaxploitation period the Jezebel caricature and the Sapphire caricature merged into a hybrid: angry "? " fighting injustice.Black actresses such as Pam Grier built careers starring in blaxploitation movies. Their characters resembled those of the black male superheroes: they were physically attractive and aggressive rebels, willing and able to use their bodies, brains, and guns to gain revenge against corrupt officials, drug dealers, and violent criminals. Their anger was not focused solely, or primarily, at black men; rather, it was focused at injustice and the perpetuators of injustice.

    In the film Coffy (Papazian & Hill, 1973), Pam Grier (Coffy) plays a nurse by day and vigilante by night who conducts a brutal one-woman war on organized crime. In the movie, she pretends to be a "strung out ? " to get revenge on the drug dealers who got her little sister hooked on heroin. Coffy lures the culprits back to their room where she graphically shoots one in the head and gives the other a fatal dose of heroin. The remainder of the movie finds Coffy using guns and her body to punish King George, a flamboyant ? , the sadistic mobster Arturo Vitroni, and every Mafioso and crooked cop who crosses her path.