The Art of Generational and Racial Division

After years of being away, this man in the following picture returns to his family. My first impressions on this picture are sympathy for the family’s experiences. This image gives off a feeling of overwhelming joy, and even a sense of passion among the people in the photo.

The photo resembles what seems to be a free African-American family. This past week, we read about what defines the sound of black or white music. As we dove more into what defines a genre, often times we found that people attach themselves to a particular genre of music due to their ability to relate to the lifestyle experiences of artists playing the music. An example of people relating to music is someone who’s been separated from a loved one listening to music that talks about being separated from a loved one. In the photo, the artist paints a picture of a family experience amongst an African-American family. This theme was common amongst many African-American families who were slowly gaining their freedoms from slavery.

In this second image, the artist portrays a college student laying on their desk, restless, being protested against by plates, pottery and kitchen appliances.

The reason I chose this particular image was that it represents a generational divide. Essentially, the college student is living a lifestyle in which she does not have to work with any plates nor cooking itself; she has temporarily emigrated away from that lifestyle through education. The plates are representative to those people who are misunderstanding of her situation by shouting to her, “Do you know anything about us?” and “Have you any idea what I am?” Like much music born of the South, this image is representative of lifestyles that are misunderstood by an external perspective. Simply put: Unless you have experienced it, you will never understand.

Sources:

Johnson, Charles Howard, “For the benefit of the girl about to graduate,” Library of

Congress (1890), http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712165/

 

Northup, Solomon, “Arrival Home, and First meeting with His Wife and Children,”

Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York,

Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853. (1853)

http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/ill6.html

Minstrelsy and Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.”

This week I found some painfully real minstrel primary source material and just want to warn readers that I deal with some racist material in this blog post. I came across a minstrel song entitled “Isn’t it a Wonder?” which isn’t at all as innocent as the title sounds. Written in 1861 by Henry Wood, “Isn’t it a Wonder?” would have been performed at a minstrel show by Wood’s group, “Wood’s Minstrels.” It is written in a thick dialect, and is full of stereotypes. Blacks are compared to a variety of animals, and are portrayed as confused and unintelligent.

“Isn’t it a Wonder?”

The message of the song is made explicit in the last stanza. Wood encourages white audiences to adjust to the changing society and to stop trying to “kill the colored race.” It is important to note that this song was written in 1861 – marking the year Lincoln was inaugurated and the start of the Civil War. One possible interpretation of this song is that it highlights the fear and uncertainty that many whites felt about slavery coming to an end. Another interpretation is that it expresses the sick and twisted appreciation whites had for black culture, as it was useful for mockery, entertainment/minstrel shows, and to escape social norms.

Fast-forward 156 years. Jay-Z releases the music video for “The Story of O.J.” which uses many of the inaccurate techniques that minstrelsy did to portray black people. It is drawn in a black and white cartoon style, and presents the viewer with a flood of stereotypical images of black people — they are monkeys, slaves, jazz players, and football players just to name a few. The characters resemble old Disney cartoons, such as Steamboat Willie, which most likely had ties to minstrelsy. We understand this due to the white gloves, over exaggerated animalistic facial features, and caveman portrayal of a child playing the bones. So, why does Jay-Z use these stereotypes? And why now?

I believe Jay-Z’s use of these racist stereotypes found in minstrelsy highlights his message about race in America – we’re dealing with the same issues now. He also addresses the racism within the black community, and the struggle for financial freedom and responsibility. In this music video Jay-Z responds to one of the problems that minstrelsy and songs like “Isn’t it a Wonder?” pose– the comedic relief that blacks provide to white audiences. Jay-Z expresses that no matter what black people do they are still exploited for profit and treated as second class citizens.

Sources

Wood, Henry. Isn’t it a Wonder. 1961. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=F59V55CJMTUxMDgwMTg5MC44MDEyOTQ6MToxMzoxMzAuNzEuMjI4Ljgy&p_action=doc&p_docnum=2000&p_queryname=2&p_docref=v2:10D2F64C960591AE@EAIX-10F453B3EBFA3590@925-@1