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Philip Yun
AFAM 40C
Professor Willoughby-Herard
10 June 2015
Representational Politics of Culture in the American Empire
The twentieth century American Empire had been viewed as a colonial evil and faced
troubles such as that of the Cold War. The times were fueled with racist standards and harsh
impositions on localized minorities. Minorities and people of color were subjected to American
imperialism and wrongly validated by each members working status. Additionally, the Cold War
introduced an internationalist struggle in America against the Soviets in foreign countries,
forcing America to convince and visit international entities to following the way of the
democracy and freedom, rather than fall into the red Soviets. Each subject faced political
troubles due to poor political representation, or lack thereof: Social values were racially
structured, the imperialized minorities had no voice and foreign nations were misinformed of the
American values of freedom. The fault in these political representations were addressed through
many forms of African American and minority culture, such as the introduction of the black
positivity magazine, Ebony, documentary films from the Third World Newsreel, and international
tours from jazz artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck. Each of these cultural forms
shared a common goal: to improve and address the many political representations of the
American Empire.
Social construct in the twentieth century American Empire was heavily oriented around
institutionalized racism. Black positivity was rare in common media and was instead replaced
with a hierarchical structure on racial aesthetics. Beauty was frequently modeled as someone

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with blue eyes and blond hair. Black bodies were however constructed and animalized as
grotesque beings. This is described by Stuart Hall as regime of representation (Hall 232), an
aesthetic hierarchical structure, where he notes that for many people, primitivism and
blackness become interchangeable (Black bodies) are reduced to the their essence (245).
The reduction to their essence was evident with the public opinion that to be ugly is to be
inferior and vice versa. To many, black bodies were represented as animalized domesticated
workers. Despite this racial paradigm, a counter was introduced. Ebony was one of the few
forms of media that incorporated black positivity into its agenda. France Winddance Twine
recalls an interview with Michael Hanchard telling this journal reflected what was occurring in
civil rights and nationalist movements in the world, it reflected this especially in the aesthetics
element (Twine 149). The coming of Ebony was an empowering tool for the transformation of
black representation in common media as it essentially rejected the social and political
representation of black bodies as beasts and instead called for the aesthetic equality in social
environments. Ebony remedied the representational politics of black aesthetic by structuring an
opposing image to that of westernized oppression.
While Ebony addressed issues of the aesthetic struggle of black bodies, there still was
still a lack of representation for the collective minority community. Many minorities of the
urban communities in America faced struggles of the imperial American Empire. People of
color, in these communities, had a lack of political representation due to the fact that the public
opinion of imperialism held intrinsic value of national pride and obligation to the White Mans
Burden. However, due to this imperialism, minority communities faced struggles of oppression
and were denied common civil rights. The Third World Newsreel took action to this absent
representation and implemented film culture to metaphorically address these problems. One of

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the most impacting films produced by the Third World Newsreel was Teach Our Children, a
documentary about the Attica Prison revolts. The film relates the conditions of Attica to the
oppressive forces imposed on the minority communities. Malcolm X once testified, I was in
prison. Youre still in prison. Thats what America means, prison (Young 259). Xs statement
completely and clearly supports the metaphor presented by the Third World Newsreel. Teach
Our Children reveals the Attica prisons poor conditions, small supply rations and extreme
imposed labor, in addition to the brutal violence exerted on the prisoners clearly represent the
reflexive attributes of prison and an imperialized Third World. One prisoner testified, Theres
really no difference in the places we live in and the life in prison (260), exemplifying the direct
connection of imperialism and prison warfare. Even the prisoners family would be impacted, as
local governments would attempt to evict the families of prisoners from their homes. This
symbolizes the imperial theft of indigenous land. The creation of this film brings upon its own
significance as it establishes a new representation of prison culture in an imperialized
community. Teach Our Children propagandized the imperialistic nature of the American Empire
and exposed the brutalities of the American Empire in an attempt to educate and create a new
momentous metaphorical understanding of America as a Third World.
Imperial representations of the American Empire took a turn during the international
conflict with the communist Soviet Union, known as the Cold War. The State Department
executed the cultural phenomenon known as jazz, a true American cultural invention, as a
weapon to repurpose diplomatic foreign views of the nation. In efforts to subdue false American
ideologies, the State Department established jazz tours to foreign countries with artists such as
Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and Louis Armstrong to create a cultural view of democracy.
Quincy Jones, a member of the Gillespie Band, accounts When they saw the Gillespie Band

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was mixed, they realized what they had been hearing was a little off the track (Eschen 276).
Jazz corrected the false pretense of foreign perspective on American government and subdued
many representatives to form allies with the US, rather than the latter communist dictatorship.
Jazz became propaganda for the States, a weapon to fight the Red propaganda. Jazz musicians
helped improve foreign relations to such a point they became referred to as Jam-bassadors.
Jazz became an effort to rescue the image of America and promote a liberal Internationalist
vision of America in an egalitarian world (275). Jazz ultimately was a symbol of freedom and
democracy to most internationals, and often resembled anti-totalitarian themes and motifs.
Although jazz transformed the political representation of America that was initially defaced by
communist propaganda, there are still complexities involved in the State Departments efforts.
Bringing the musical offering to foreign relational officers nearly implies imperializing foreign
entities with democracy. The change in representational politics did not count for the matter of
the still existing racist policies made by government officials and the State Department in order
to win over potential allies. Although the American culture of jazz music repurposed the foreign
view of American policy, it still kept some imperial values of the American Empire in high
stealth.
In conclusion, the births of a variety of American culture all came to a similar purpose
and motive, to restructure existing representational politics and advocate a new political attribute
associated with their respective cultural medium. The likes and works of positivity journals such
as Ebony redefined social standards of the aesthetic definition of beauty. The emergence of the
Third World Newsreel exposed the close characteristic inheritance of the Third World in the
American Empire and made an invisible idea of minority oppression clear and visible. The arts
of jazz helped the nation construe an egalitarian and diplomatic relational status with foreign

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countries to help fight red communism. Regardless of the culture form, different mediums all
worked towards the same goal of repurposing and restructuring political representation in the
American Empire. The restructure of cultural impact not only redefined political representations
but also moved closer to removing the boundaries such as oppression and war from the American
Empire.

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Works Cited
Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in
Association with the Open U, 1997. Print.
Von Eschen, Penny M. Mapping the Ideological Terrain of Racism.
Theories of Blackness on Life and Death. Ed. Tiffany Willougbhy-Herard. University
Readers Inc., 2011
Von Eschen, Penny M. Swinging into Action.
Theories of Blackness on Life and Death. Ed. Tiffany Willougbhy-Herard. University
Readers Inc., 2011
Young, Cynthia A. Third World Newsreel Visualizes the Internal Colony. Theories of
Blackness on Life and Death. Ed. Tiffany Willougbhy-Herard. University Readers
Inc., 2011
Question 4 of Section 5