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Picaninny Image Galleries. The picaninny 1 was the dominant racial caricature of black children for most of this country's history. They were "child coons," miniature versions of Stepin Fetchit see Pilgrim Picaninnies had bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips, and wide mouths into which they stuffed huge slices of watermelon.
They were themselves tasty morsels for alligators. They were routinely shown on postcards, posters, and other ephemera being chased or eaten. Picaninnies were portrayed as nameless, shiftless natural buffoons running from alligators and toward fried chicken. The first famous picaninny was Topsy -- a poorly dressed, disreputable, neglected slave girl. Topsy was created to show the evils of slavery.
Here was an untamable "wild child" who had been indelibly corrupted by slavery. She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round, shining eyes, glittering as glass be, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room. Her mouth half open with astonishment at the wonders of the new Mas'r's parlor, displayed a white and brilliant set of teeth. Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction.
The expression of her face was an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning, over which was oddly drawn, like a veil, an expression of dirty slave girl most doleful gravity and solemnity. She was dressed in a single filthy, ragged garment, made of bagging; and stood with her hands demurely folded in front of her. Altogether, there was something odd and goblin-like about her appearance -- something as Miss Ophelia afterwards said, "so heathenish Stowe hoped that readers would be dirty slave girl by the tribulations of Topsy, and would help end slavery -- which, she believed, produced many similar children.
Her book, while leading some Americans to question the morality dirty slave girl slavery, was used by others to trivialize slavery's brutality. Topsy, for example, was soon a staple character in minstrel shows. The stage Topsy, unlike Stowe's version, was a happy, mirthful character who reveled in her misfortune. Topsy was still dirty, with kinky hair and ragged clothes, but these traits were transformed into comic props--as was her misuse of the English language. No longer dirty slave girl sympathetic figure, Topsy became, simply, a harmless coon.
The stage Topsy and her imitators remained popular from the early s well into the twentieth century Turner,p. Black children were some of the earliest "stars" of the fledgling motion picture industry; albeit, as picaninnies Bogle,p. Thomas Alva Edison patented 1, inventions. In he invented the kinetoscope and the kinetograph, which laid the groundwork for modern motion picture technology. During his camera experiments inEdison photographed some black children as "interesting side effects. These nameless children were referred to as inky kids, smoky kids, black lambs, snowballs, chubbie ebonies, bad chillun, and coons.
First produced inOur Gang continued into the "talkie era. One or two black children appeared in each short episode. Our Gang is often credited with being "one of Hollywood's few attempts All of the children, blacks and whites, took turns playing nitwits. Donald Bogle wrote: "Indeed, the charming sense of Our Gang was that all of the children were buffoons, forever in scraps and scrapes, forever plagued by setbacks and sidetracks as they set out to have fun, and everyone had his turn at being outwitted" p.
While this is true, the black characters were often buffoons in racially stereotypical ways. They spoke in dialect -- dis, dat, I is, you isand we is. Farina, arguably the most famous picaninny of the s, was on more than one occasion shown savagely eating watermelon or chicken. He was also terrified of ghosts -- this fear was a persistent theme for adult coons in later comedy films.
Farina and Buckwheat wore tightly twisted "picaninny pigtails" and old patched gingham clothes which made their sex ambiguous. Why was this sexual ambiguity a necessary part of the show? Buckwheat, the quiet boy with big eyes, has an unenviable distinction: his name is now synonymous with picaninny. Indeed, the term picaninny is today rarely used as a racial slur; it has been replaced by the term buckwheat. Picaninnies as portrayed in material culture have skin coloring ranging from medium brown to dark black -- light skinned picaninnies are rare.
They include infants and teenagers; however, most appear to be years old. She was older than the typical picaninny, but her character was functionally a picaninny. Picaninny girls and sometimes boys have hair tied or matted in short stalks that point in all directions; often the boys are bald, their he shining like metal. The children have big, wide eyes, and oversized mouths -- ostensibly to accommodate huge pieces of watermelon.
The picaninny caricature shows black children as either poorly dressed, wearing ragged, torn, old and oversized clothes, or, and worse, they are shown as nude or near-nude. This nudity suggests that black children, and by extension black parents, are not concerned with modesty.
The nudity also implies that black parents neglect their children. A loving parent would provide clothing. The nudity of black children suggests that blacks are less civilized than whites who wear clothes. The nudity is also problematic because it sexualizes these children. Black children are shown with exposed genitalia and buttocks -- often without apparent shame. Moreover, the buttocks are often exaggerated in size, that is, black children are shown with the buttocks of adults. The widespread depictions of nudity among black children normalizes their sexual objectification, and, by extension, justifies the sexual abuse of these children.
A disproportionately high of African American children are poor, but the picaninny caricature suggests that all black children are impoverished. This poverty is evidenced by their ragged clothes. The children are hungry, therefore, they steal chickens and watermelon. Like wild animals, the picaninnies often must fend for themselves. Picaninnies are portrayed in greeting cards, on-stage, and in physical objects as inificant beings. Stories like Ten Little Niggers show Black children being rolled over by boulders, chased by alligators, and set on fire.
Black children are shown on postcards being attacked by dogs, chickens, pigs and other animals. This is consistent with the many 19th and 20th century pseudo-scientific theories which claimed that blacks were destined for extinction. He argued that blacks would die off because the "doom that awaits the Negro has been prepared in like measure for all inferior races" Fredrickson,p. George Fredrickson's The Black Image in the White Mind includes an excellent discussion of the "black race will die" theories pp. Picaninnies were often depicted side by side with animals. For example, a postcard, showed a Black child on his knees looking at a pig.
The caption read, "Whose Baby is OO? On postcards black children were often referred to as coons, monkeys, crows, and opossums. A s pinback2 showed a bird with the head of a black girl. Picaninnies were "shown crawling on the ground, climbing trees, straddled over logs, or in other ways assuming animal-like postures" Turner, p.
The message was this: black children are more animal than human. Arguably, the most controversial picaninny image is the one created by Helen Bannerman. She spent thirty years of her life in India. She regularly wrote illustrated letters with fantasy storylines to entertain their children. In there "came into her head, evolved by the moving of a train," the entertaining story of a little black boy, beautifully clothed, who outwits a succession of tigers, and not only saves his own life but gets a stack of tiger-striped pancakes Bader,p.
The story eventually became Little Black Sambo. The book appeared in England in and was an immediate success. The next year it was published in the United States by Frederick A. Stokes, a mainstream publisher. It was even more successful than it had been in England.
The book's success led to many imitators -- and controversies. Barbara Badera book critic, summarized the events. All American children did not see the same book, however. Though the authorized Stokes edition sold well and never went out of print, a host of other versions quickly began to appear from mass-market publishers, from reprint houses, from small, outlying firms unconstrained by the mutual courtesies of the major publishers.
A few are straight knock-offs of dirty slave girl book that Bannerman made, without her name on the title ; the majority were reillustrated -- with gross, degrading caricatures that set Sambo down on the old plantation or, with equal distortiveness, deposited him in Darkest Africa. Libraries stocked the Stokes edition, and a few others selectively. But overall the bootleg Sambos were much cheaper, more widely distributed, and vastly more numerous. Was Bannerman's Little Black Sambo racist? The major characters: Little Black Sambo, his mother Black Mumbo and his father Black Jumbo used standard English, not the bastardized English then associated with blacks.
Stereotypical anti-black traits -- for example, laziness, stupidity, and immorality dirty slave girl were absent from the book. Little Black Sambo, the character, was bright and resourceful unlike most portrayals of black children. Nevertheless, the book does have anti-black overtones, most notably the illustrations. Sambo is crudely drawn, an obvious caricature. This seems unlikely.
Bannerman could have drawn an Indian character if that was her intention, the Little Black Sambo character is very dark, has a broad nose, and the stereotypical exaggerated red lips and rolling eyes found in black caricatures. His only South Asian feature is the hair, which is black but not kinky.
The little hero is black, not South Asian. Black Mumbo is drawn as a stereotypical American looking mammy, though she is not obese. The caricature of Black Jumbo is softer, though it is similar to the Dandy caricature. The names Mumbo and Jumbo also make the characters seem nonsensical at a time when blacks were routinely thought to be inherently dumb. The illustrations were racially offensive, and so was the name Sambo. At the time that the book was originally published Sambo was an established anti-black epithet, a generic degrading reference. It symbolized the lazy, grinning, docile, childlike, good-for-little servant.
Maybe Bannerman was unfamiliar with Sambo's American meaning. For many African Americans Little Black Sambo was an entertaining story ruined by racist pictures and racist names. Even as I sit here and write the feelings of shame, embarrassment and hurt come back. And there was a bit of confusion because I liked the story and I especially liked all those pancakes, but the illustrations exaggerated the racial features society had made it clear to me represented my racial inferiority -- the black, black skin, the eyes shining white, the red protruding lips.
I did not feel good about myself as a black child looking at those pictures.Dirty slave girl
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