Abstract

Our society is steeped in visual narratives, often utilized by journalists, politicians, and other opinion leaders to perpetuate cultural 'myths' about the products they offer and the consumers who 'need' them. During the Jim Crow era, the commercial goods produced and distributed by western powers exalted Eurocentrism while simultaneously maligning indigenous cultures in much of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The packaged goods and commercial ads of this era assisted in the ontological construct of European superiority. Like gender, race is a social construct that changes over time and from place to place. Racism, above all, is a systemized hierarchy anchored in material structures and embedded in historical configurations of power. Promotional industries utilize advertising to communicate expectations about race and ethnicity, just as they do about cars, clothing, or coffee shops. The characteristics and symbols historically used to represent blacks in advertising have forged permanent images in the American psyche. These crafted narratives are used to illustrate the dynamics of social power and ideology we use to create meaning. Robbin Henderson, former director of the Berkeley Art Centre, said, 'Derogatory imagery enables people to absorb stereotypes, which in turn allows them to ignore and condone injustice, discrimination, segregation, and racism.' Images that specifically depict blacks as violent or animalistic support the idea that blacks are unfit to attend racially integrated schools, live in safe neighborhoods, work in responsible jobs, vote, and hold public office. This research will utilize archives of images from the Jim Crow south, to better understand the western creation of racist motifs. Trends and icons will be documented in order to draw comparative analysis between past symbols and those used in current advertisements. Through visual narratives from the Jim Crow era, this research explores how past motifs objectify African Americans or utilize racist symbols to sellcommercialgoods. Thisformofsubculturalstudywillprovidethereaderwithabetter understanding of how design has contributed to Western biases against African Americans and other minority groups.

Keywords

Cultural Criticism, Race, Semiotics, Advertising

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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Jun 4th, 12:00 AM

Racist Motifs in Design

Our society is steeped in visual narratives, often utilized by journalists, politicians, and other opinion leaders to perpetuate cultural 'myths' about the products they offer and the consumers who 'need' them. During the Jim Crow era, the commercial goods produced and distributed by western powers exalted Eurocentrism while simultaneously maligning indigenous cultures in much of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. The packaged goods and commercial ads of this era assisted in the ontological construct of European superiority. Like gender, race is a social construct that changes over time and from place to place. Racism, above all, is a systemized hierarchy anchored in material structures and embedded in historical configurations of power. Promotional industries utilize advertising to communicate expectations about race and ethnicity, just as they do about cars, clothing, or coffee shops. The characteristics and symbols historically used to represent blacks in advertising have forged permanent images in the American psyche. These crafted narratives are used to illustrate the dynamics of social power and ideology we use to create meaning. Robbin Henderson, former director of the Berkeley Art Centre, said, 'Derogatory imagery enables people to absorb stereotypes, which in turn allows them to ignore and condone injustice, discrimination, segregation, and racism.' Images that specifically depict blacks as violent or animalistic support the idea that blacks are unfit to attend racially integrated schools, live in safe neighborhoods, work in responsible jobs, vote, and hold public office. This research will utilize archives of images from the Jim Crow south, to better understand the western creation of racist motifs. Trends and icons will be documented in order to draw comparative analysis between past symbols and those used in current advertisements. Through visual narratives from the Jim Crow era, this research explores how past motifs objectify African Americans or utilize racist symbols to sellcommercialgoods. Thisformofsubculturalstudywillprovidethereaderwithabetter understanding of how design has contributed to Western biases against African Americans and other minority groups.

 

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