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

By Janis Faye Hutchinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

Janis Faye Hutchinson

This volume examines portrayals of African Americans in various arenas: the media, biological hypotheses, visual images, black identity, and grass-roots cultural nationalist groups. Cultural presentations (in museum exhibits, the public media, and the academic and legal arena) of African Americans affect how others view them and how they view themselves. Along this line, such presentations determine the historical perspective for understanding minority cultures. This historical account influences not only how contemporary African Americans are viewed, but also how they will be seen in the future. The purpose of this book is to examine some of the problems in producing cultural portrayals of African Americans in the modern world and to determine the effect of these portrayals on minorities and nonminorities.

How should images of various ethnic groups be presented to the public, and who should control the presentation of these images? Most presentations of non-Western cultural groups in museums have been approached from the etic or outsider perspective. How has this approach affected both the popular and self-images of these groups? How should biocultural issues concerning minorities and non-Western communities be approached and reported? These questions are examined by investigating portrayals of African Americans in various arenas. Key points examined within this framework are: (1) there have been negative portrayals of ethnic minorities by nonminorities, (2) these negative portrayals have been internalized by ethnic minorities and nonminorities, and are perceived as true or correct representations, (3) such negative portrayals are usually myth or the product of historical racism, (4) there may be sociopolitical, economic, and academic motivations for negative portrayals of ethnic minori-

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