WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions

Spectacular Blackness

Discourse about African American identity has been indelibly shaped by the nexus of language and visual representations that configure blackness as a deviant other to the West and Western citizenship. From racist caricature in travel narratives and pro-slavery tracts, to contemporary representations of "welfare queens" and "thugs," visual representations serve as allegedly transparent, and objective examples of the perpetual and inevitable failure of black men and women to be human. Combatting these representations requires untangling the web of raced and gendered representations shaping what Patricia Hill Collins has called "controlling images" of African Americans-images such as Mammy, the pickaninny, Sapphire, Jezebel, the Welfare Queen, Coon, Sambo, Thug, and Man on the Down Low. At the same time, even discourses of respectability and "good" blackness can contribute to hegemony. 

This exhibit looks at representations of people of African descent in film, advertisements, cartoons, children's books, and new media in order to explore the ways in which stereotypes about African Americans have circulated in visual media. 

The images on this website were collected from Special Collection at Washington University in St. Louis. This website should be used for educational purposes only. The university does not hold copyright for these images and they should not be reproduced for a publication or any other website. The text for this online exhibition was produced by Washington University students and quotations should include the citation, "Spectacular Blackness," Washington University in St Louis Libraries,(http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/spectacularblackness)


Contributors: Erin Amato, Candace Borders, Briana Bostic, Natasha Ceballos, Sheri Gardner, Abby Gordon, Aria Griffin, Ciara, Ciara Hackman, Rachel Hoffman, Zach Hyams Isiaq Abdul-Jabaar, ZunairaKomal, Symone Palmer, Moya Schpuntoff, Jerusha Simmons, Kara Skoldager, Anastasoa Sorokina, Jordan Thompson, Editors: Helen Kaul, Sara Brenes Akerman.