Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Negro Notes from the U.S.A.: Social Perception and Interpretations of Race and Gender in the United States and South Africa, 1945-1965

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Negro Notes from the U.S.A.: Social Perception and Interpretations of Race and Gender in the United States and South Africa, 1945-1965

Article excerpt

On September 1, 1957, six Black students reported to all-white North Little Rock High for the first day of school, only to be barred from entering. At eight o'clock that Monday morning, a mob of white students and their parents met the black students--accompanied by a small group of ministers, parents, and School Superintendent F. B. Wright--at the doors of North Little Rock High. The first time the students attempted to enter, a group of white youths--some laughing and one (shown in photograph of the front-page story) scowling around his cigarette and blowing smoke in the faces of the six Black students--surrounded the terrified youths and pushed them back. Minutes later, Superintendent Wright himself led the same group up the steps of the school, only to be rebuffed again. When Wright tried, to no avail, to push through the crowd, he threatened the white students blocking his path. "If you want to stay in this school you'd better get out of the way," Wright said. "I'd rather get out," an unidentified youth yelled back, a remark met with cheers from the crowd. A few moments later Wright conceded to the crowd and told the Black students, "Nothing can be gained at this time by you boys presenting yourselves here." (1)

In its presentation of the North Little Rock integration effort, the Arkansas Democrat--one of the then two state newspapers during geared towards a predominantly white readership--played a vital role in the continual construction of racial perceptions and practice. Portrayed as righteously defiant and ultimately victorious in the face of those who would oppose the racial norms of the day, the white youths represented the next generation of staunch segregationists.

For them and fellow youths who would read of the heroic stand, the time to take up the white supremacist banner of their parents' generation was now, and for these readers--in the midst of the most formative years of their lives--the seemingly official endorsement of the event and the unpunished actions of the true aggressors helped to craft a belief in the justification of the continued system of segregation. In its unwillingness to label white students as insurgents, or to publicly condemn their actions as counterproductive to contemporary local integrative efforts, the Democrat--an arm of the white, mainstream media--presented a neutrally supportive stance of the students' actions. The article lacked the type of language that would have clearly marked the white students as having behaved improperly in their blatant flaunting of authority and positioned Black students as somewhat deserving of their treatment. (2)

As expressed by sociologist Aldon Morris, "ideological hegemony" speaks to the ability of a dominating class to control the types of information that reach the general public, either reinforcing the party line (maintaining mainstream ideas), or creating a new one. (3) The reality of ideological hegemony as illustrated by publications such as newspapers and popular magazines as conveyors of public opinion offers a unique glimpse into the daily lives, expectations, dreams, and often imaginative fears of a given community or society. As a public institution, the purpose of the free press is to both represent and reflect the societies in which it exists. When there are competing racial/ethnic ideologies within a given society, however, the free press can become an uncontested terrain wherein ideas, viewpoints and opinions of dominant groups are often expressed with a decided disregard to the same of secondary groups. (4) Morris contends that breaking away from hegemonic ideas is the most important element of social protest movements because in doing so, oppressed groups de-legitimize the system of oppression under which they live. (5)

This article seeks to uncover the ways in which the black press in the United States and South Africa worked to do just that: combat the negative images/assumptions regarding their communities as portrayed in mainstream media outlets. …

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