From trivialization to criminalization: the black body, the white media and the pattern of persecution.
Before America marketed the black man as a lurking threat who was prone to violence and a terror to himself and the larger community, he was the quintessential nice guy, full of cheer and always smiling, happy to be enslaved, timid, childlike, buffoonish and harmless.
Those characteristics woven together were known as the “coon” archetype of the 19th Century, which was pervasive in American society and media up until the 20th Century, when slavery ended and the Radical Reconstruction Era began.
The coon stereotype served a purpose: if it was widely believed that the black man was intellectually disabled, than a master or paternalistic figure to oversee him was not only necessary, but viewed as an act of compassion or morality.
Needing, in the 20th Century, a narrative to justify reclaiming control of the black race, mainstream society, with seamless execution, went from trivializing the black body to criminalizing it, introducing a new stereotype: the black brute, who was the exact opposite of the coon.
The black brute embodied America’s ideology then and now: without a form a slavery, the black man would be crushed under the weight of his own freedom and would resort to barbarism.
Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, a white writer who helped popularize the coon archetype through the media, is noted by historians as one of the first prominent literary figures to mass market the black brute archetype.
In 1898, according to website of Ferris State University, Mr. Page published Red Rock, a Reconstruction novel that featured an antagonistic character named Moses, an evil black politician whose modus operandi in raping white women was to act beastly.
In fact, the raping of white women was the crime most commonly associated with the black brute, and it became the justification for lynching.
From that moment on, the majority of Americans believed that blacks were prone to violence and supported harsher penalties and punitive approaches for their bodies.
The media, like it did for the coon archetype, found ways to incorporate the black brute archetype into everyday life. Anti-black propaganda was found in newspapers, on televisions, postcards, books and in scientific journals.
At the tail end of the 20th Century, in professional wrestling, traits of the black brute were used to sell the characters of Junkyard Dog and Ahmed Johnson, whose gimmick, for the most part, was simply their brute force and rage.
The media, throughout America’s history, has always worked on behalf of the mainstream White society to dehumanize, trivialize, criminalize and de-legitimize black men, their bodies and efforts.
In the 21st Century, the pattern continues, though it now includes black women and the crime narrative has been broadened.
For example, the mainstream American media is carefully executing a plan across channel and platforms to criminalize the Black Lives Matter movement – which was started by three women of color – to make it easier to dismember it, as was the steps taken by America to remove the Black Panthers from the mainstream.
The media, as Brother Malcolm X noted, is one of the most powerful tools in the world and thus it’s time for blacks to have greater understanding and control of it.
The black man is widely believed to be prone to violence today because of the media, but remember it wasn’t always that way; which means the media, in the right hands, can introduce narratives and images that showcases the black man as a caring and endearing builder of communities and enterprises.
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Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™