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

By Janis Faye Hutchinson | Go to book overview

of production which network the editor/organizers, the corporation, the museums, the USIA, and their audiences. We suggest that those established organizations occupy a position that empowers them to diminish, if not undermine, the fledgling organizational success of New African Visions Incorporated by imposing an exclusionary sanction if those black editor/organizers had chosen to behave as black visual activists and had proposed to display effective oppositional imagery that might threaten white public space. Instead, the visual entrepreneurs preferred to display hopeful progress.

Finally, we also examined both the categories used to organize the images and the language used when the editor/organizers were insisting that they had no story to tell. We have demonstrated that they are obviously telling a story of mainstream success for African Americans in an effort to counter "negative" mainstream media representations that have so often portrayed African Americans as incapable of success. We end by characterizing Songs of My People as a postcolonial instrument of the exhibitionary complex. It was established to entrain the consent of lower class British audiences to the extravagances of the British Empire by rewarding with civilized (racial) status their counteridentities as good workers and as good consumers of imperial goods. The African-American counter-identity created by this imagery and marketed through museum venues is trying to prove that African America is mainstream material and is not a population of misfits and deviants. The editor/organizers succeeded, but they also blindly end up reproducing the same relations of domination (which allow only some blacks to succeed while disallowing the possibility of domestic tranquillity for most blacks). In other words, we believe that the editor/organizers not only sought to personally succeed, but also needed their mainstream audience to see African America succeeding too. To be safe, they inadvertently trimmed unwanted diversity out of their self-portrait. A bit of African America's experiential ugliness is left in for the sake of attempting to be honest, but overall, the selected imagery represents a set of highly sanitized mainstream categories to be consumed by a postcolonial mainstream audience. We argue that this organizationally successful and sanitized selected imagery makes the project attractive for export to overseas audiences by a federal agency of information control.


NOTES
1.
Songs of My People, a project of New African Visions Incorporated, organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and on national tour from September 1992 through November 1994.
2.
It is important for readers to know the scope of this exhibit's national exposure. In 1992 it toured Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa, Columbus, and New York City. It moved to Chicago in January of 1993. It was seen in Denver from March through May, in Detroit from June to August, in Little Rock from April to May, in Cincinnati in June through August, in Jackson, Mississippi from

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