The representation of 'race' in mass media Introduction To inquire into the representation of 'race' in media is to bring together a number

of disparate threads. First among these is the nature and history of racism, of the stereotyping and essentializing (which I will define) of a group of people based on race. The bond between race and racism is not airtight, and the Othering of groups has more to do with power relations than any biological truths. Racism itself has a number of streams that will be discussed today, but the scope of our class focuses on the American context of racism and representation, and that the racial dialectic here will be primarily between constructions of "white" and "black". As James Snead noted (paraphrasing W.E.B. DuBois), ³the 'Negro' is 'the metaphor of the twentieth century, the major figure in which these power relationships of master/slave, civilized/primitive, enlightened/backward, good/evil, have been embodied in the American subconscious' (Snead 1997:26). The split between "black" and "white" is still the defining mark of American culture ± OBAMA - and it will no doubt dominate discourse about race in that context for some time to come. Today, I will touch on a number of media representations of racial difference. With the dawning of the twentieth century, the discourse surrounding jazz, film and the folk revival provided further manifestations of the changing representations of black and white people. And today specific racial attitudes flourish in ways that have a ripple effect on popular culture bringing us to the moment that Hall talks about in the article I had you read ³What is this Black in Black popular Culture?´ POSTMODERNITY HALL¶s article is concerned with a certain trend called postmodernity: What is postmodernity y The time period would cover the time since the Second World War to the present, with a peak in the 1960s with their decolonization and Social Revolutions. Still, postmodernity does not yet have a simple, general definition on its own account and the distinctions (modern/postmodern) are academic and debatable. y It is a time period, a theoretical model, and a state of being. y may be used to describe the present social, cultural, and economical state y it implicates a certain reaction to a perceived failure of the movement modernism (i.e., structuralism, optimism, progressiveness, and creativity). y It can also mean non-linear narrative styles, like the movie we saw: Black is, Black Ain¶t, which was very fractured, disrupting itself to tell another line of thought.


SLIDE 2 - Stuart Hall says that postmodernity 1. It is ambiguous depending on where you are in the world the meanings change, but in terms of pop culture, there is ³always an ambivalent relationship to European high culture.´ (This would include the art and literature of ³dead white men.) 2. A global phenomenon that has ³shifted the terrain of culture toward the popular´ or culturally dominant which tends to ³decenter or displace´ grand narratives and old hierarchies. 3. Difference is fetishized. Multiculturalism«. VOGUE INDIA example 4. Matched by backlash, ³the aggressive resistance to difference . . .´ Example: Obama as ³race´ and Clinton as ³gender´ candidates. What is McCain then? (Why isn¶t he the ³age´ candidate? Why isn¶t Palin¶s gender a big deal?) Slides 3/4 ± Vogue India Images NYT 9/1/08 - Some 456 million Indians live on less than $1.25 a day. That is half the population. Back to slide 2 y Is this similar to Collins¶ and Anderson¶s (week 1) idea of colorblindedness? They define this as: refusing to recognize or treat as significant a person¶s racial background and identity. Wanting to be "blind" to color or race seems to mean wanting to ignore race or pretend its social and historical effects don't exist. REPRESENTATION A key in the study of representation concern is with the way in which representations are made to seem µnatural¶. Systems of representation are the means by which the concerns of ideologies are framed; such systems µposition¶ their subjects. (It is the realm of society where ideologies become evident, but also hidden or masked.) (ask if they remember what ideology is?) Slide 5 ± Ideology y Common definition: Ideology can refer to a systematic body of ideas articulated by a particular group of people¶ ± e.g., the ideology of the Republican Party or the Catholic Church y Anderson and Collins¶ definition of ideology: beliefs that form the structure of social relations making certain behaviors appear ³normal´ and ³acceptable.´ Ideological beliefs often cloud our awareness of how social relations are structured to privilege few, while oppressing many  Examples: welfare queen versus overcommitted professional mom; Obama¶s terrorist fist jab y Stuart Hall¶s definition of ideology: µthe mental frameworks²the languages, the concepts, the categories, imagery of thought, and the systems of representations²which


different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out, and render intelligible the way society works¶ SO, ideology y It defines, but also sets limits y It figures (renders clear) but it can also obscure y It includes but also leaves out y It explains²but for specific reasons y It expresses and makes links between certain ideas, practices, etc. y It makes certain political positions or social relations (ex. patriarchy, heterosexuality, capitalism) seem ³natural´ or ³commonsense´ y Example: welfare queen, obama fist jab, advertising Representation Reality is always represented - what we treat as 'direct' experience is 'mediated' by perceptual codes. Representation always involves 'the construction of reality'. All texts, however 'realistic' they may seem to be, are constructed representations rather than simply transparent 'reflections', recordings, transcriptions or reproductions of a pre-existing reality. Representations which become familiar through constant re-use come to feel 'natural' and unmediated. (sounds like ideology) Representations require interpretation - we make modality judgements about them. Representation is unavoidably selective, foregrounding some things and backgrounding others. Realists focus on the 'correspondence' of representations to 'objective' reality (in terms of 'truth', 'accuracy' and 'distortion'), whereas constructivists focus on whose realities are being represented and whose are being denied. every representation is motivated and historically contingent. (Explain slide) SLIDE 6 ± Representation as a process (for your papers?) SLIDE 7 - Key Questions about Specific Representations What is being represented? How is it represented? Using what codes? Within what genre? How is the representation made to seem 'true', 'commonsense' or 'natural'? What is foregrounded and what is backgrounded? Are there any notable absences? Whose representation is it? Whose interests does it reflect? How do you know? At whom is this representation targeted? How do you know? What does the representation mean to you? What does the representation mean to others? How do you account for the differences? How do people make sense of it? According to what codes? With what alternative representations could it be compared? How does it differ? A reflexive consideration - Why is the concept of representation problematic? 3

SLIDE 8 - practice Race The whole of the inquiry into race and representation hinges on an idea of 'race'. This term has a long history of meanings, with little in the way of consensus between different groups as we saw in the movie black is black aint, and in our classroom discussion during the first week. Thus 'race' means very different things at different times and even between different people at the same time. To Henry Louis Gates Jr., 'race' is entirely a construct, with no reality other than its usage in discourse (talking, writing, popular culture, anywhere there is communication, etc). Gates argues: 'races', put simply, do not exist, and to claim that they do, for whatever misguided reason, is to stand on dangerous ground...For, if we believe that races exist as things, as categories of being already 'there,' we cannot escape the danger of generalizing about observed differences between human beings as if the differences were consistent and determined, a priori (Gates 1986:402-3). one generalizes about the attributes of an individual (and treats him or her accordingly). Such generalizations are based upon a predetermined set of causes or effects thought to be shared by all members of a physically defined group who are also assumed to share certain 'metaphysical' characteristics...[this] can have rather little to do with aggression or contempt in intent, even if the effect is contemptible (but often 'wellintentioned') (ibid:403-4). The "benevolent" racism that Gates describes has many faces in the twentieth century postmodern context. The romanticization of black culture (often simultaneous with the act of co-optation) has done little to reverse notions of certain "black" attributes as unchanging, natural and instinctual - "in the blood". White people have often represented black culture as separable from black people, an object to be frozen in time and space. This has become especially prevalent with the increasing commodification of cultural products. Questions of representation cannot be separated from an inquiry into systematic racism and the power struggles that it instantiates. As Edward Said has written, representations are put to use in the domestic economy of an imperial society...representation [is a] discursive system involving political choices and political forces, authority in one form or another (quoted in hooks 1990:72) Mass media and mythical formations The primary crucible for representation in the twentieth-century context is the mass media. Media, according to Stuart Hall, is the arena where ideologies are both produced and transformed; the mass media produces 'representations of the social world, images, 4

descriptions, explanations and frames for understanding how the world is and why it works as it is said and shown to work' (Hall 1995:19-20). Ideologies work by representing 'common sense', by seeming to model the way things are supposed to be. Media representations often feed into the realm of social myth. I am using the concept of "myth" here as "a narrative...that people collectively believe in independently of its 'truth' or 'falsity'" (Rodman 1996:30-31). Myths are always revealing about the fears, fantasies and desires of the people that circulate them. Moreover, ideology is often reproduced in mythical formations - "a set of related myths that revolve around a particular point (or points) of articulation" (Rodman 1996:31). SLIDE 9 - Stereotypes The representation of race in media has been infused since the beginning with a series of interlocked myths, a racist mythical formation. This racist ideology includes a number of stereotypes, essentialized (I will define in a minute) models of Otherness against which cultures are aligned. Donald Bogle, in his groundbreaking study of blacks in American films, developed a model of five African-American stereotypes as represented by the cinema: 1. The Tom - the 'Good Negro'; Bogle notes: Always as toms are chased, harassed, hounded, flogged, enslaved, and insulted, they keep the faith, nâer 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 (Bogle 1973:3)1 . 2. The Coon - actually three types, the pure Coon, the pickaninny and the uncle remus. The pure coons were the most degrading of all black stereotypes. They were the no account-niggers, those unreliable, crazy, lazy, subhuman creatures good for nothing more than eating watermelons, stealing chickens, shooting crap, or butchering the English language (ibid.:8) The pickaninny was generally a black child, a 'harmless, screwball creation whose eyes popped [and] whose hair stood on end with the least excitement' (ibid.:7). Probably the most well-known pickaninnies are Buckwheat and Stymie from the Hal Roach Our Gang series, syndicated to television through the 1980s as The Little Rascals. Finally, the uncle remus is another harmless, friendly stereotype, given to 'quaint, naive and comic philosophizing' (ibid.:9). He was immortalized in the Disney film "Song of the South"(1946), which Bogle calls "a corruptive piece of Old South propaganda put together to make money" (Bogle 1973:191), yet it "glaringly signalled the demise of the Negro as fanciful entertainer or comic servant" (ibid.:192).


6. The Brutal Black Man - another pernicious and enduring stereotype, the buck was introduced to audiences the 1915 film Birth of a Nation. The character of Gus (played by a white actor, Walter Long, in blackface) occupied the buck role in this film. Bucks are always 'big, baadddd niggers, over-sexed and savage, violent and frenzied as they lust for white flesh'(ibid.:16). The buck stereotype played on the white audience¶s fear of black-white miscegenation, as the threatening black man was set in contrast to the idealized white woman. The buck is bestial, uncontrollable in his sexual appetite. The buck type was to reoccur as a subtext of the discourse surrounding the rock and roll craze of the 1950s. AND now in the form of gangstas. 3. The Tragic Mulatto - usually fair-skinned, trying pathetically to pass for white. The Tragic Mulatto is a sympathetic character (as Bogle points out, this is probably because of their white blood [ibid.:9]). Example from hook¶s ± Passing by Nella Larson ± Clare¶s desire for blackness lead to her death. 5. The Mammy - this is the predominant female black stereotype - the Mammy is usually loud, independent and overweight. Her offshoot is the aunt jemima, who is 'sweet, jolly and good-tempered' (ibid.:10). 6. Sapphire ± hooks describes her as the STRONG BLACK WOMAN, Sapphire, named after a character in ³Amos µn¶ Andy´, always seems to have her hands on her hips while she is running her mouth - putting down her man, making everything into a fight, never taking anything lying down. She is an overbearing, hard and undesirable woman who drives men away. In the Moynihan Report in the 1960s the government wanted to know why blacks were so poor. Part of the blame went to a form of the Sapphire stereotype: the Matriarch. 7. Jezebel - Jezebel, the bad-black-girl, who is depicted as alluring and seductive as she either indiscriminately mesmerizes men and lures them into her bed, or very deliberately lures into her snares those who have something of value to offer her. Hypersexualized. As Stuart Hall notes, these types of stereotypical images are deeply ambivalent - they are both comforting and threatening to the white observer (Hall 1997). Either way, they provide a series of convenient roles for the white representation of black people. All of them play into white fantasies of moral, spiritual and mental superiority. Essentialism Essentialism, in many ways, forms the backbone of what we mean when we investigate race and representation. The idea that representations are informed by social constructions of race and racism depends on the existence of stereotypes - that 'black' culture is essentially something (while 'white' culture continues on as a 'nothing' or norm). While Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates proclaim at the outset of their volume Identities their commitment to anti-essentialist critiques of identity, within the text itself essayist Walter Benn Michaels offers that "there are no anti-essentialist accounts of identity" (Michaels 1995:61ff). What he means is that the very search for identity 6

(which is based on the idea that "we need to know who we are in order to know what past is ours" [Michaels 1995:59]) depends on a notion of group-belonging that requires an essentialist approach. Merely by aligning oneself with a definable group (white, male, heterosexual), one assumes certain essential qualities that characterize that group. This is still true when notions of 'culture' supersede notions of 'race', as started to happen in the early 20th century and the advent of Postmodernity. Modernist constructs of identity as based on race depended on the notion of a "common scale", against which races could be compared. Different races were thought to possess different measures of various traits - the traits were, of course, unevenly distributed, which allowed for the existence of racial superiority. Post modernity replaced this, extending the earlier notion of racial identity into a question of cultural identity - rather than race alone determining a set of traits, culture (which could ostensibly cross racial lines) was the determiner of those traits. Race became unmeasurable and inscrutable and thus the races were not subject to comparison. Post modernity merely introduces us to a new breed of essentialism. "Who we are" remains at the center of what is identified as culture, not "what we do". This is the hallmark of essentialism. And Stuart Hall rejects the deployment of "strategic essentialism" embraced in the work of Gayatri Spivak as ultimately self-defeating: The moment the signifier "black" is torn from its historical, cultural, and political embedding and lodged in a biologically constituted racial category, we valorize, by inversion, the very ground of the racism we are trying to deconstruct...we fix that signifier outside history, outside change, outside political intervention (Hall 1997:130). What once seemed fixed - race, gender, class, ethnicity - has become problematic. The interests of diversity and difference sometimes clash noisily with the interests of community as identities become confused, conflicted and sometimes maddeningly particular. (Black is black Aint) Nonetheless, the world outside of the academy continues to blithely label and compartmentalize people and cultures. Whiteness Against a backdrop of white "normalcy", 'black' (and Asian, Indian, Latino/a) are marked categories. They call attention to themselves by virtue of being divergent from the norm. Whiteness itself remains largely unquestioned; it is an absence of race. 'Whiteness is everywhere,' George Lipsitz writes, 'but it is very hard to see' (Lipsitz 1995:369). It is 'unqualified, essential, homogeneous, seemingly self-fashioned, and apparently unmarked by history or practice' (Frankenburg 1997:1); a blank slate against which difference and Otherness is constructed. This is the sine qua non of racial hegemony, this privilege to occupy the null position. Slide 10 ± hegemony 7

‡ ‡


Concept derived by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) Describes the way dominant classes (genders, nations, etc.) maintain their power ± not by (just through) brute force but by achieving legitimacy, winning ³consent,´ and making their rule appear commonsense or simply ³the way things are´ Hegemony is maintained (and must be continually maintained: it is an ongoing process) by dominant groups and classes µnegotiating¶ with, and making concessions to, subordinate groups and classes¶ ± hegemony doesn¶t imply oppression (although oppression might be present); it depends upon negotiation, stability, consensus EXAMPLE: we drive on the right side of the road, we stop at stop signs. Popular culture comes to be viewed as the terrain upon which hegemony is secured or contested Constant battle between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces

‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡

Counter-discourses Throughout modern media history, oppressed groups have endeavoured to counteract their systematic erasure through subversive representations, which is where Hall¶s article referred to the disruptive power of blackness. In the main, histories of media have ignored this struggle, describing the Othered groups (when they are mentioned at all) in terms of passive victimization. Jane Rhodes has attempted to redress this wrong in her article 'The Visibility of Race and Media History' (Rhodes 1995). She notes that while black people were absent from early mass newpapers except as advertised chattel, black-run newspapers started to appear in the nineteenth century. Rather than attempting to ameliorate racism, though, these papers functioned primarily to unify the black community in discourse. Nonetheless, one of the premier abolitionist voices of 19th century American media was the black newspaper Freedomâs Journal, founded in 1827 by John B. Russwurm. Twenty years later, Frederick Douglassâs North Star helped to establish the tradition that was taken up in the twentieth century with the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, and Crisis magazine (Neal 1999:9). Meanwhile, an African-American literature tradition began to appear in the eighteenth century. Those writers found themselves battling against a European structure of representation that was oppressive, to say the least. The European representations of black people were based on a racism that was seemingly confirmed by science, and thus virtually irrefutable. Thus, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. recounts, 'This helps us to understand why so very much Anglo-African writing...directly addressed European fictions of the African in an attempt to voice or speak the African into existence in Western letters' (Gates 1986:402-3). It would be a mistake to assume from the relative dearth of African-American media commentary during this time that a powerful critical process did not exist. It has been a necessary condition for much of this time that the discourse has remained underground, 8

coded in metaphor and ciphers. Thus oral expression has ruled with the black masses, and the expressive vocal arts have taken the lead. Even in the antebellum South, black spirituals encoded narratives of critique and community, while field hollers, blues, signifying and double entendre have played similar roles for successive generations. Example from Black is Black Aint - The black church It makes sense that the spiritual would function as an important vehicle for black social criticism, as the church was the locus of the black public sphere up to the 1960s. As Mark Anthony Neal writes, African-American acceptance or appropriation of Christian ideology allowed the black spiritual tradition to develop with relative autonomy, since Christianity was generally perceived among the white elite as a positive socializing force. The singular presence of the black Christian tradition within the context of plantation life allowed blacks to instill within the tradition and the institutions that promoted the tradition, narratives of resistance and critique, even as such narratives were largely shrouded in African and African-American rhetorical practices (Neal 1999:4). Like the jook joint (but with very different sentiments and motivations), the black church instantiated a 'covert, but public, social space' (ibid.) where a community could be constituted. These spaces are public in the sense that they are easily visible and frankly communal, but are also covert in that they are decidedly separate from the mainstream. Jim Crow laws denied blacks access to mainstream public spaces, so the church became an all-purpose social space for both secular and religious groups, including, according to Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 'schools, circulating libraries, concerts, restaurants, insurance companies, vocational training [and] athletic clubs...The Church also functioned as a discursive critical arena - a public sphere in which values and issues were aired, debated, and disseminated throughout the larger black community' (quoted in Neal 1999:5). Black popular culture, according to hall, is a productive space of transformation. Whiteness (bell hooks talks about in Loving Blackness) While a few studies from past decades have approached the problem of whiteness per se (see, for example, Horsman 1981, Dyer 1988), only recently has there been a sustained critical effort to grapple with its meanings and implications, a response to bell hooks 1990 call for 'a discourse on race that interrogates whiteness' (hooks 1990:54). Anthologies now available typify the emerging discipline of whiteness studies, examining constructions of white society from both inside and outside the white subject position. Like blackness, whiteness has no static meaning across spaces and places. Whiteness can be described as a process, with very different meanings - 'ensembles of local 9

phenomena complexly embedded in socioeconomic, sociocultural, and psychic interrelations' (ibid.). Rather than being a biological fact, whiteness in fact can be conferred on groups of people hitherto thought of as nonwhite/Other by virtue of upward class mobility or political consideration. As an example of the former, Karen Brodwin Sacks argues in her essay 'How Did Jews Become White Folks?' that American Jews and other Euroamericans gained 'white status' after World War II as a result of home ownership and suburban residence, among other factors (Sacks 1994). As an example of the latter, David Roediger points out in his book Wages of Whiteness that a sense of unifying whiteness coalesced around European immigrants in the early twentieth century as a bulwark against competition for work with freed slaves and freeborn blacks (Roediger 1992). This is an example of what George Lipsitz calls the 'possessive investment in whiteness' (Lipsitz 1995). Rather more subtly, Roediger points out that the white invention of black stereotypes in the 19th century was connected to an envy for what whites perceived as the corporeal, carefree life of the black man. The life of the working man was rapidly changing, as mechanization continued apace and the rural life was giving way to urban factories. This brought with it no small degree of nostalgia for the Îless civilizedâ times of agrarian country life. Conveniently ignoring the oppressive, humiliating daily lives of black slaves, white workers saw in the weekend recreations of black people the shadow presence of their own imagined past. The working-class white began to see black people as 'embodying the preindustrial, erotic, careless style of life the white worker hated and longed for' (Roediger, quoted in Cantwell 1996:57). Taking a somewhat different angle, Eric Lott argues that Hatred of the other arises from the necessary hatred of one¶s own excess; ascribing this excess to the 'degraded' other and indulging it - by imagining, incorporating, or impersonating the other - one conveniently and surreptitiously takes and disavows pleasure at one and the same time (Lott 1993:482). Whiteness in this form can be seen as an 'invented tradition' (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) in the sense that a tradition of continuous white history was constructed in order to create a sense of solidarity in a time of social upheaval. The point of such a tradition is the creation of a sense of invariance - that Îthings have always been this wayâ because of historical precedent and natural law. Meanwhile, blacks have been denied a history - as James Snead notes, The message of black inferiority...was addressed to viewers who desired a sense of clear-cut dominance within the often confusing uncertainties of American history. Historical ambiguity requires some sense of transhistorical certainty, and so blacks were as if ready-made for the task. Onscreen and off, the history that Western culture has made typically denies blacks and black skin of historical reference, except as former slaves or savages (Snead 1997:3).


In fact, whiteness tends most often to be about power - the power to include and exclude, the power to objectify and hold the subjective position. David Roediger argues that whiteness is 'nothing more than domination and a paradoxical longing for and rejection of other racialized groups' (quoted in Panish 1997:xiv). Frankenburg further suggests that 'it is only in those times and places where white supremacism has achieved hegemony that whiteness attains (usually unstable) unmarkedness' (Frankenburg 1997:5). The construction of a supreme white race was a necessary prerequisite to the rampant expansionism of colonial Americaâs early decades. A discourse of 'race' gradually appeared in the nineteenth century, replacing earlier nationalist accounts. The people that stood in the way of American expansion were classified as inferior races. This included native Americans, Africans, and Spanishspeaking mixes of Spanish and native blood in the Southwest. Marking is the practice of exaggerating or highlighting racial difference - it is necessary because in life, the reality of blackness can not always be determined but by "nonwhiteness". Thus black actors have often been "blacked up" to increase the visual impact of racial difference (Snead 1997:5-6). Omission is "exclusion by reversal, distortion, or some other form of censorship" (Snead 1997:6). Because omission is characterized by an absence, it is the most difficult of these three tactics to identify. It can be manifested by the literal absence of black people or by the absence of black people in roles that are coded as white - doctors, lawyers, etc. Even the more radical expressions of black subjectivity have often been fodder for white co-optation (like white consumer support of misogynistic rap, which reproduces black men as violent beasts and brutes), which bell hooks talks about in Loving Blackness as Political Resistance. Hooks tells us that loving blackness is dangerous in a white supremacist culture, but that it is necessary, because racism has been internalized. She recommends separatism, and constant vigilance of racism, acknowledge the pain, get angry and do something about it, and most of all LOVE. Diva, Evil Black Bitches, and Bitter Black Women - What does Springer add to this discussion? What is Springer¶s critique of postmodernism and popular culture? What is a Diva (Evil Black Bitches, and Bitter Black Women) and why is it important for this discussion on black popular culture? What are the main points of this text? What sorts of examples are used? Are they useful? Can you think of others? a. Watch first 10 minutes of the pilot of weeds if there is time to ask what we think of the black/white juxtaposition, etc.

12:15 talk about assignment 11

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