Thursday, December 07, 2006


Kweisi Mfume on Black Stereotypes

In 2003 Kweisi Mfume, then president and CEO of the NAACP held a press conference rejecting streotypes of Black people in America. Right now I am preparing for an exhibition of the work of Kara Walker, which uses streotypes such as Mammy, Picaninny, Coon, and the Brute to make her artistic point. For me, it is an open question if she successfully subverts the original intention and meaning of these stereotypes or reinforces them. But, I thought it worth reprinting here an excerpt from the Mfume speech.

"We are still living with the entirely untrue racist labels placed on African-Americans hundreds of years ago. We [African-Americans] do not enjoy sitting on our porches, nor do we frequently drink malt liquor from 40-ounce bottles. We do not wear our hats backward, nor our pants with one leg bunched up, and we certainly wear more than just Fila and FUBU. We love to swim. Also, few of us are afraid of dogs. Our hair is not nappy, our buttocks not big, our noses and lips not wide, and our legs are plenty hairy. Our elbows, knees, and heels are smooth and moist. We are not prone to stealing things and we think white women are ugly. We never buy cheap cars and put expensive stereo systems in them. As for the stereos we have, we always keep them playing at a courteous level. As for the cars, we always drive with our seats up and both hands on the wheel. We rarely use swear words, and our grammar is always perfect. The great majority of us think Snoop Dogg is lewd and inappropriate. We never call women derogatory names like “bitches” or “hos.” We do not smoke Kool and most of us have never heard of Newport.

We do not smoke Buddha, nor chronic, nor hocus-pocus, nor any other narcotics. We barely know the meanings of the words “fly,” “dope,” “trick,” “phat,” “dawg,” and “off the hook,” among others. Those of us who are musicians know what guitars and drums are and how to use them to make music. We rarely sing about guns or women. Our handshakes are not complicated at all. We do not like to make fun of white people. We never talk about the “white man” holding us down. We do not name our daughters after perfumes with “ita” added to the end. We do not necessarily like the taste of sweet potato pie, nor collard greens, nor fried chicken, nor watermelon. I don’t even know what chitlins are. Just about all the others I’ve forgotten are false, too. I hope this aids in the removal of racial boundaries and what not."

When asked if any African-American stereotypes are true, Mfume responded: “Well our dicks are huge. Oh, and we can dance like a motherfucker.”

A recent show of Kara Walker's work in germany is accompanied by an article commissioned by Deutche Bank (ironies abound) that, of course, in the end neatly collapses the questions about Walker's art by stating that she is a "true Black traditionalist" whatever that is supposed to mean. Anyway, it's worth a read:

Blasphemous Images: The Ironic Masquerades of Kara Walker
By Karsten Kredel

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