Coloring the Colored: Media Manipulations of Blackness

By Basil Kincaid.

Come This Way_Basil Kincaid 2014

Come This Way, Basil Kincaid, 2014, Digital collage print on flexi, 152cm x 304cm, image courtesy artist


One’s formulation of their concepts of personal identity and the relationship that they have to the public sphere begins at a tender age.   Often before we are cognizant of this process we are coached and indoctrinated in various belief systems as they relate to our conception of self and those around us. I am interested in examining this process through my work questioning my own personal development and the development of cultural identities. When we begin to examine this process in the current age I find it important to explore the history of visual imagery presented on television, in movies and in the news. Whether we like it or not the media plays a large role in the way we conceptualize ourselves. For the fact that children are spending ever increasing amounts of time in front of the television and coached by the media through music and content on the internet I find it imperative to examine what effects this level of media saturation in daily life has on youth as it relates to ones conception of blackness.

Within the series of work presented in Voyage of [Re]Discovery I have used appropriated images from cartoons and movies, juxtaposing imagery from the past with contemporary imagery to examine the ways in which imagery used in the past to coach racist sentiments is rebooted to perpetuate the process of learned inferiority by blacks and to reinforce concepts of white supremacy within whites. This work focuses on imagery from media within the United States. Several of these works pull from scenes in the movie Farewell Uncle Tom, touted as one of the most brutally realistic depictions of what chattel slavery in the United States would have looked like. This film makes Roots, the most commonly referenced movie depicting chattel slavery look like a children’s movie. In coming to realize this I found it apt to juxtapose its imagery with imagery from children’s movies to prod how similar images are used to subconsciously teach racism to children. The work “Come this Way” shows a young girl pulling her slave along by the neck playfully. During chattel slavery children that were too young to work were given to white children as play things. This served a multifaceted purpose, most notably it teaches the white children that they are superior to the blacks and it teaches the blacks that from birth until the day they die they will be inferior to whites. This scene is interlaced through digital collage, one row of pixels at a time, with an image from an early “Merry Melodies” cartoon where a white girl is pulling a little black girl along by the hand as they smile and sing. This cartoon aired openly on TV from the 1930s into the 1970s until it was deemed too racist for its content in the way it related blacks to whites and was subsequently banned from TV.

I find the relationship between these images poignant because slavery was considered to be over after the emancipation proclamation was penned in 1863, yet imagery is still being used to this day to coach the same belief systems that operated during chattel slavery.   These systems of indoctrination allow systemic racism to persist on a global level because black people are encouraged to emulate white people out of a subconscious inferiority complex. While simultaneously, everything from the inequality in the education system to the way the news relays stories of white crime vs. stories that contain black criminals encourages the belief that black people are prone to criminality.

In the United States the news amplifies stories that contain black criminals and they choose to air vastly more images about black criminality compared to the stories aired about white criminals when statistics show that blacks and whites commit an equal amount of crime across the board. The media portrayal of blacks justifies the school to prison pipeline and the disproportionate sentencing of blacks and whites which leads to a vastly disproportionate prison population and a belief in average white Americans that blacks are prone to criminality.

This reinforced, falsely generated, belief system makes room for black males in the United States to be killed at the rate of nearly one per day by the police or vigilantes without consequence when they are unarmed and have committed no crime at all. The concocted mentality is so ingrained in American consciousness that black men are dangerous criminals that we see 12 year old boys shot and killed by the police while playing with toy guns outside or 18 year old boys killed and left in the middle of the street in my home town while his hands were raised begging the police to stop shooting all for walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk.   These cases of Tamir Rice, age 12, and Michael Brown, age 18 are just 2 of many young men and boys whose lives are taken as a result of a multifaceted system of racism that operates on a global level and is reinforced by the media.

Basil Kincaid is an artist from St. Louis, Missouri, USA. In 2014 Basil Kincaid was selected for a yearlong Artist in Residence program through Art Connect International to continue The Reclamation Movement in the United States for 3 months with a 9 month abroad component in Ghana. This Residency will be followed by solo shows in Boston MA, St. Louis MO, Chicago IL, Jackson MS, and Denver CO in 2015.

*This text was written for the Voyage of [Re]Discovery exhibition in March 2015. See exhibition catalogue.


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