The Root of Society’s Problems with Racial Biases in America

Dec 6, 2015
by: jbranch

We all have seen the racial injustice in America whether we like to admit it or not but where did these biases begin? How have these issues hindered us as a society? How can we stop this and begin to grow?

Well… How DID these negative biases about people of color begin?
This all began in the 1690s when dance was outlawed and people of color needed a way around it. They would shuffle and slide their feet a certain way so they had their own way to dance without getting in trouble for it. (The Roots of Black Stereotypes)

One day a crippled black man was doing the special dance and a white man, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, was watching him. He found the odd looking dance entertaining so he took the black man’s clothes, covered his body in black body paint, and copied his dance for a crowd later that night. The crowd loved it and soon white men in black face became a huge hit in entertainment everywhere. They called this personified black man “Jim Crow”.

When TD Rice did this performance, he didn’t really mean for it to do as much harm as it did. White people who had never laid eyes on a black person thought that’s how they all really acted! Rice was exaggerating a dance done by a crippled black man. It shocked and surprised most of his audiences into believing that that was what black men actually were like and that image was scary!

So that’s where the eruption on racial bias of the black man began but that’s definitely not where they ended. Jim Crow in film negatively affected the black population as well.

Jim Crow in Film?
TD Rice not only affected live performances and small dances, but he also affected television and film. We began to see characters like the Sambo, the Uncle, the Mammy, and other characters in television and film and it often displayed them as very happy, ignorant, and content with their less than satisfactory lives.

The Sambo was the black male of the house who was always laughing and neglecting his responsibilities. The Zip Coon was a freed slave living in the North who tried to act like rich white men to make himself seen smarter but ended up making a fool of himself. The Uncle was always religious, mellow, and gentle. The Mammy was the ruler of the house. She was always obedient to the white slaveowner but would boss her husband and children around. The Pickaninny was the very young black child who had huge eyes, unkempt hair, tattered clothes, and wide mouths always eating watermelon and oblivious to the world.

White people actually began to believe that those characters and images were the reality of black people so they went on to believe that they enjoyed life on plantations and that they should stay there!

After the Emancipation
The Emancipation Proclamation was set into effect on January 1st, 1863. Slaves all over were now free from their masters and had an opportunity to LIVE. But there are always negatives to great positives.
African Americans were put into cartoons, film, and art as dangerous, aggressive, violent beasts who didn’t know what to do with themselves now that they were freed! The media portrayed African Americans in a horrible way and it created more negative stereotypes against the African American population. It made white people start to think that slavery should come back so they can regain some order!
Cartoons still displayed African Americans as savage, crazy looking “coons”. Film still starred white actors in black face. White people were still convinced that African Americans were not beautiful.

Has it stopped?
Well of course it hasn’t completely stopped! The Black Face characters have definitely decreased over the years but still remain in entertainment today! Just look at Tyler Perry! While his “harmless” Madea character and other characters in his films can just be seen as comical, they still display the actions of black face characters in the past. The loud, thicker mother of the house being more aggressive and the Uncle Tom type character always being out of it can definitely be seen in Perry’s films and plays.

How do we stop it?
In a recent interview with Nadiera Young, marcher in the Million Man March and teacher in Camden, New Jersey, her answer to this question was to simply educate! Especially our youth. Biases begin at young ages and if we want to end negative biases for the future, we have to show our youth what is socially correct.