Racist Caricature of the day: The Brute

Content Note:  The subject matter in this post contains images, words, and phrases of racist nature, some of which may be graphic.

Those of African descent have long been ‘othered’…treated as if they aren’t part of the human race…treated as subhuman…or only part human; certainly not deserving of the same rights as everyone else (often read as white people).  This othering has resulted in racist caricatures of Blacks. These denigrating caricatures treat Black people in a dehumanizing manner.  One such racist caricature is ‘The Brute’.

When reading this, I ask you to think about the critics of 18 year old Michael Brown.  Think of the people who claimed that he was a hulking brute who’s very size was a threat to Officer Darren Wilson.   Think of how Brown’s size was used to justify Wilson’s fear and subsequent actions, including his murder of Brown.

During slavery the dominant caricatures of blacks — Mammy, Coon, Tom, and picaninny — portrayed them as childlike, ignorant, docile, groveling, and generally harmless. These portrayals were pragmatic and instrumental. Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

During the Radical Reconstruction period (1867-1877), many white writers argued that without slavery — which supposedly suppressed their animalistic tendencies — blacks were reverting to criminal savagery. The belief that the newly-emancipated blacks were a “black peril” continued into the early 1900s. Writers like the novelist Thomas Nelson Page (1904) lamented that the slavery-era “good old darkies” had been replaced by the “new issue” (blacks born after slavery) whom he described as “lazy, thriftless, intemperate, insolent, dishonest, and without the most rudimentary elements of morality” (pp. 80, 163). Page, who helped popularize the images of cheerful and devoted Mammies and Sambos in his early books, became one of the first writers to introduce a literary black brute. In 1898 he published Red Rock, a Reconstruction novel, with the heinous figure of Moses, a loathsome and sinister black politician. Moses tried to rape a white woman: “He gave a snarl of rage and sprang at her like a wild beast” (pp. 356-358). He was later lynched for “a terrible crime.”

The “terrible crime” most often mentioned in connection with the black brute was rape, specifically the rape of a white woman. At the beginning of the twentieth century, much of the virulent, anti-black propaganda that found its way into scientific journals, local newspapers, and best-selling novels focused on the stereotype of the black rapist. The claim that black brutes were, in epidemic numbers, raping white women became the public rationalization for the lynching of blacks.

The lynching of blacks was relatively common between Reconstruction and World War II. According to Tuskegee Institute data, from 1882 to 1951 4,730 people were lynched in the United States: 3,437 black and 1,293 white (Gibson, n.d.). Many of the white lynching victims were foreigners or belonged to oppressed groups, for example, Mormons, Shakers, and Catholics. By the early 1900s lynching had a decidedly racial character: white mobs lynched blacks. Almost 90 percent of the lynchings of blacks occurred in southern or border states.

(read the full article, by Dr. David Pilgrim, here)

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Racist Caricature of the day: The Brute
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