Ethnic Notions Essay

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Ethnic Notions is a documentary directed by Marlon Riggs. The title itself explains what the movie is about-impressions of race. Throughout the documentary, Riggs presents the history of stereotypes and shows how they still exist. In today’s society we have become so accustomed with stereotypes that they are considered normal. The movie Ethnic Notations introduces the problem of stereotypes by explaining their origin and history, giving examples, and showing how they still exist today, so that we are no longer fooled and unaware of stereotyping and racism. During the early and mid 1900’s black people were depicted on television and media as ignorant, ugly, violent and inferior to white people. These negative, degrading and horrible images of black people over time shaped people’s views and thoughts about black people and this was how stereotypes were created. Media used caricatures which are exaggerated representations of people to get racist views across to white and black American people.

One example of a caricature is The Sambo. The Sambo was a caricature created to depict the black male as being lazy, child like ignorant and care-free making the black male seem more like a child than a male. Another example of a racist caricature is pickaninnies which are black children. Pickaninnies were depicted as ugly kids with rough wooly hair, big eyes, dark black skin, big mouths and bright red lips. Pickaninnies often resembled animals in children cartoons and were viewed as savage by white people. One of the most popular caricatures of the 1900’s is the mammie caricature. The Mammie was an older black woman who took care of the white man’s family. Mammies were shoed as loving mother figures who were fat black and unattractive. Mammies were created to show that some blacks were happy as slaves and loved black people.

These stereotypes were disturbing, degrading and in most cases poor representations of black people. It saddens me how whites could think so low of black people or any other human being at all. Sadly stereotypes still exist today in television, media and society. One stereotype I feel definitely still exist today ids the Sambo stereotype although there are great black actors that play dramatic roles most black men in the media are still shown as being careless and immature.

However not all stereotypes today are exactly the same as the caricatures from the 20th century but a new modern version. For example instead of black women being depicted as unattractive mammies on television, they are now ghetto loud and un-lady like. Sometimes I even find myself acting out a stereotype, like being loud or cursing in public. After watching Ethnic Notions I feel like stereotypes are too deeply rooted in Americas culture to ever be completely gone. Although this conclusion is unfortunate I do believe that we could make people believe in stereotypes less and less through media, by depicting blacks in a more positive light.

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