by AndrewMc | 9/23/2009 05:00:00 AM
This is a picture history, and I don't want to foreshadow the story. Follow me below.

The images of a slave ship shocks us today, and part of their power comes from the dehumanization of the slaves. Shackled and forced into the cargo hold, these Africans are pictured as sub-human.

slave ship

Here the imagery is a bit more subtle, as the artist portrays slaves killing helpless women and children as well as an unarmed man. It reinforces the racial imagery of the brutish black man.

This widely circulated image of a slave being executed for taking part in a rebellion in Suriname demonstrates the brutal lengths to which people went in order to enforce the slave system. It also reinforces the idea of the kinds of punishments fit for non-whites.

After the American Civil War, racial imagery came to be used as a tool of political and social oppression. Not that this wasn't the situation previously, but after the Civil War Africans had the legal right to vote. For racist whites this required new methods of intimidation, and imagery was as important as ever. Here we see an African American and an Irishman depicted as monkey-like, showing that in this early period the use of an ape to depict people of supposed "lower" racial orders wasn't confined to African Americans.

The Spanish American War and the onset of imperialism provided American cartoonists with another opportunity to depict the "other" in stereotypical ways. Note the use of ape-like imagery to show foreigners as sub-human. This, of course, coincided with the height of the "Social Darwinism" movement.

Of course, racial intimidation wasn't limited to cartoon-world. In real life, whites lynched blacks by the thousands from the 1860s through the 1960s. Lynching provided the violent backdrop, and the ever-present threat, that helped reinforce the consequences of transgressions by blacks who strayed out of "their place."

For some, lynching was a family affair. Note the young girl in the right-hand foreground.

Racism also wasn't limited to cartoons and violence. Institutional racism in the form of workplace segregation was the legalized norm in many states up through the 1960s and 1970s.

As it was for public facilities, of course.

The presence of groups like the KKK--even when they weren't engaged in violence--served as a form of intimidation.

And then we have this, regarding President Barack Obama, which is easy to parse in the context of several hundred years of racial imagery and intimidation.

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Anonymous Cameron Blevins on 9/23/2009 12:24 PM:

Great use of images - should be required viewing for those who claim we're occupying a post-racial society and opposition to Obama has absolutely nothing to do with race.


Blogger AndrewMc on 9/23/2009 6:43 PM:

Thanks! I left out so much, that's for sure.