The Urban Plantation: Racism & Colonialism in the Post Civil Rights Era

By Robert Staples | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Culture, Ideology and Black Media Images

Human society has been characterized throughout history by unequal access to its values. This inequity is often accepted by the denizens as the natural order of life. Since the inequality enhances a small minority at the expense of the masses, it is necessary to erect some kind of cultural apparatus which services the function of convincing the exploited groups that their condition is necessary and natural. Marx called this cultural apparatus the superstructure, wherein the ideas of a society, of necessity, reflect the values of the ruling class.1

These ideas, historically, were expressed through the political, religious and legal institutions as well as the images and ideologies through which social reality was constructed. In the 20th century, other mediums emerged to serve the function of purveying the bourgeois and racist ideology to mass publics throughout the world. Those mediums, generically labeled as the entertainment and arts complex, have typically operated negatively for groups at the bottom rung of the social strata. As the most oppressed of the exploited classes, black Americans have been portrayed in the media in ways which reinforce the image of white superiority and black inferiority, the purpose of which has been the stabilization of status quo relations between the races.

In one of the most important mediums, movies, blacks have been blatantly subjected to exploitation and dehumanization. More than any other medium, the film industry has shaped and reflected racist attitudes toward blacks. Sterling Brown has listed seven stereotypes of blacks found in literature and films: the contented slave, wretched freedman, comic Negro, brute Negro, tragic mulatto, local color Negro and the exotic primitive. In these types, one finds the characteristics of laziness, filth, sensuality and crime.2 Until 1954, these images of blacks were

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