How Black Americans used portraits and family photographs to defy stereotypes 3/14/21
Unstable. Criminal. Impoverished. Absentee fathers. Neglectful mothers. “A tangle of pathology,” as the Moynihan Report, a 1965 study on Black poverty, put it.
For decades, the Black family has been denigrated as dysfunctional.
When mass media exploded in the late 19th century, degrading images of Black Americans — as inferior, clownish and dangerous — saturated nearly every aspect of popular culture, from music to advertising.
The evolution of radio, film and television in the 20th century only amplified demeaning images, providing “proof” to white Americans of Black inferiority and a justification for denying them their rights.
Today, many of these same tired images persist and continue to feed baseless perceptions. A 2017 study showed that the news media continue to “inaccurately portray Black families as more poor, criminal and unstable than white families.”
When those malicious images first started to proliferate, Black Americans found an especially effective way to resist. They seized upon the camera to represent themselves, using photographs to depict who they really were. Seemingly a “magical instrument” for “the displaced and marginalized,” as critic bell hooks writes, the camera provided “immediate intervention” to counter the injurious images used to deny them their rightful place in American society.
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