It is natural for human beings to evaluate the things they come into contact with. We especially try to gain direction and insight from evaluating other people. As a result, we develop stereotypes by evaluating other people on biases that we have upon the group that they belong to. For racial stereotypes, there are constructed beliefs that members of a certain race share some given circumstances. Some of the common racial stereotypes associated with African Americans include the images of Mammy, aunt Jemima, the Savage, Jim Crow, Sambo, and jezebel among others.
The Liberation of Aunt Jemima by Betye Saar
In this piece, Betye Saar is explaining the background of The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. Watching the interview piece by Betye Saar on aunt Jemima, we get to know that Betye Saar was asked to be a part of an exhibition that was taking place in Oakland. Other artists were also invited, and they meant to create artwork centered on their heroes. Betye Saar wanted to work on something that was about a woman that was to protest against women stereotyping. That is when she found the Jemima piece, which was black in which her one hand was holding something that looked like a pencil while the other – something that resembled a notepad. She decided to make aunt Jemima a lawyer, and thus instead of a pencil, she put broom while the other hand held a rifle, and in her stomach where the paper was placed, she put another Mammy holding a small baby. She then put an enclosed box with the words ‘aunt Jemima pancake palm’ labels behind the painting. Here, she is arming the pancake lady with a gun and a broom. This piece, The Liberation of aunt Jemima, was Betye’s first protest piece, and it became her signature piece. However, she says that her heart fears such derogatory images, but it is an integration of the transition from slavery to freedom. She however says that she does not represent violence but to get the attention that the piece needs, she makes her carry the gun.
As an artist, Betye Saar has over the years challenged the dominance of male artist, especially addressing gender and race issues in her piece. Even though the US had passed civil and voting rights, there is a general laxity to enforcing, and this is what she is calling to attention. She uses mammy with a white baby inside, and aunt Jemima figures to reconfigure the meaning of the stereotypical within the society to the ones in power. This piece of The Liberation of Aunt Jemima is shown covered in advertisements. The foreground is that of the aunt Jemima holding a gun in one hand and a broom in the other. This transforms her from that of a caregiver and a servant to a very proud militant who is demanding agency within her society. Her large clenched fist is used to symbolize the radical and aggressive means that were used by African Americas to protect their interests in the 1970s. This alone transforms aunt Jemima from just a passive domestic worker to an aggressive woman with that symbol of black power showing that she wants to be liberated from that history of white oppression as well as from her traditional gender roles (Racial stereotypes in advertising).
According to the Jim Crow Museum of Ferris University, mammy caricatures are the most well known and enduring racial caricatures used to represent African American women. Items with mammy caricatures include ashtrays, detergents, candles, kitchenware, postcards, and toys. There are three types of mammy: real mammies, fictional mammies and commercial mammies. Real mammies were used to represent black women as being happy and contented as slaves during the slavery era, the fictional mammy was used during the slavery-era to show that mammy could do anything to defend her white family. The commercial mammy was used in advertising to sell household items, and mammy’s most successful commercial was the aunt Jemima expression (Racial stereotypes in advertising).
According to the racial stereotypes in advertising, the main aim of advertising is to make a product look appealing to the customer, and this involves advertisers using gimmicks to help sell the product. Race is a key advertising merchandise tool, and it uses images that range from sublet racist to blatant stereotypes. Aunt Jemima was mainly used to induce images of white forced labor that was perpetuated on the servitude of African Americans. Modern advertising however does not make use of blatant racist images; some of them still contain racism, because advertisers tend to portray blacks according to perceived cultural assumptions (Racial stereotypes in advertising).
Clearly, the role of mammy has changed over the years; mammy used to be the understanding woman who valued the white lifestyle and was shown to love raising her master’s children than her own, treated whites with respect but dominated and treated her family with temper. Mammy evolves through the years to aunt Jemima, whose duties were restricted to cooking. Aunt Jemima becomes the reality in later advertisements. Aunt Jemima however evolves through Betye’s advert where she is seen holding a gun in one hand and a broom in the other.
Other Images in Popular Culture That Reinforce Stereotypes
Another female stereotype was Jezebelle the harlot. This is an image of a “bad black girl” who is shown to represent the undeniable sexual appetite of African American woman. Jezebelle evolved from a light-skinned slim mulatto girl who resembled a European ideal for beauty to the belief that blacks are sexually lewd. The Jezebel stereotype was used to rationalize sexual relations between black women and white males (Jim Crow Museum of racist memorabilia).
Jim Crow stereotyped African Americans with an advent of a blackface. In the early 19th century, white actors used to darken their faces with dark coke and an exaggerated white mouth to entertain people. As a result, they created a character known as ‘Jim Crow,’ who was later used as a racial epithet for Blacks and thus seen as a racial slur. Jim Crow phrase was later used to describe customs and laws that oppressed black people (Jim Crow Museum of racist memorabilia).
Dangers of Stereotyping
Stereotypes are sometimes necessary to a certain degree as they may help us remember some terms associated with things pretty quickly. Nevertheless, stereotyping can be very dangerous, especially when it is solely relied upon to process information about something. Therefore, stereotyping can result to discrimination, prejudice and other social evils.
It is especially painful if the identity of a person is stereotyped from what is known of a group that one belongs to. An example of another stereotype is that black women are angry. We know that at least every person gets angry at one point, but labeling all black women as being angry is demeaning. Having a few black women who may seem angry does not make the whole group of black women angry. It is therefore morally irresponsible to hold on to stereotypes that demean certain groups as a true representation of the whole group. It makes people in that group feel bogged down by such labels (Jim Crow Museum of racist memorabilia).
Although it may be natural for human beings to evaluate the things they come into contact with to try to gain direction and insight from evaluating other people, it is not right to develop stereotypes by evaluating other people on some common beliefs that we have upon the group that they belong to. Racial stereotypes have long been used to describe members of a certain race, and most of them are very demeaning, because they seem to lead to discrimination, prejudice, and socialisms. It is therefore important that we get to know the person we are dealing with as an individual and not associate them with the stereotypes according to the group they belong to.