Cultural Portrayals of African Americans: Creating An Ethnic/Racial Identity

By Janis Faye Hutchinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Creating a Racial Identity

Janis Faye Hutchinson

The contributors to this volume provide diverse portrayals of African Americans in America. Americans and the world population are aware of the social problems faced by African Americans, especially, the high rates of teenage pregnancy, female-headed households, unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, criminal victimization and drug addiction ( Oliver 1989; Poussaint 1983). Less well known is the fact that these groups are a minority within a minority. That is, such individuals are a small segment of the group rather than a representation of the group. Like all other racial/ethnic groups, African Americans are a heterogeneous population. However, the media, social and biological scientists, and the majority population study and interact with blacks as if they are a homogeneous group that can be reduced to a single variable, race. As a result, African Americans have a uniformly negative image. The uniformity of negativism comes from portrayals of African Americans by the majority white population. Historically, the whites' desire for political and economic privilege formed the basis for prejudice, discrimination, and racism toward Africanderived people. Racist, negative, and uniform images of African Americans were created to justify historical and contemporary racism. Today, we still live with the legacy of historical racism. As a result, negative portrayals of African Americans continue to be perpetuated in popular and scientific forums.

At the eighty-eighth annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association ( 1989), Eric Wolf, the distinguished lecturer, discussed structural power, a mode of power that is "power that not only operates within settings of domains, but that also organizes and orchestrates the settings themselves, and that specifies the distribution and direction of energy flows" ( Wolf 1990:586). According to Wolf, this is the type of power that Foucault believed structured "the possible field of action of others" ( Foucault 1984:428). It is this type of structural power that the second and third chapters address. Both focus on the

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