Cartoons, Minstrel Shows, and Animality

During class on Monday, we very briefly covered the idea of cartoons mimicking the minstrel show of the early 1900’s through the 1930’s. This portion was very interesting to me, specifically due to the fact that I had previously read about the minstrelsy in a book by Franz Fanon. However, one point that I believe went untouched throughout the discussion was briefly mentioned in Sammond’s book about racism within cartoons. When we looked at all the characters that Sammond mentioned as reflecting the minstrelsy, every single character had something in common: all of them had animal characteristics. Sammond states that this is a common trope of the minstrelsy, along with the white gloves and the unmarked/racially ambiguous body. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse were most glaringly so, but even Bimbo in the animation that we watched for this week had glaringly animalian attributes (face of a dog, long ears, no pants, etc.).

Now, why does this matter? For years, many white members of American society have viewed black people as simply pack mules; they are not on the same cognitive level as white folks, so they are best used for manual labor or for their superior bodies. Even the scientific literature from early in the 20th century attempts to explain that black people have superior bodies by studying muscle growth or differences between the bone structure, which researchers believed would provide black people with a physical advantage. This type of sentiment is even reflected in the movie Get Out, but I will not explain how because I don’t want to give spoilers. Our societal belief that black men and women are mentally inferior and akin to animals, who simply fuck and eat and kill each other. By creating this paradigm, racism continues to perpetuate society. Those who believe in the mindset of Eugenics might state that black people are seen to hold back children in school and graduate at lower rates because of their skin color. By allowing the perpetuation of this Blackness-Animality metaphor, we allow racism to continue to plague our society, and limit the upward movement and overall happiness of those in the black community.


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