News from Uncle Tom's Cabin
By Mindy Dai and Jae You
Cultural interactions in the 1850's were haunted by a pervasive specter of racism, exemplified by the characters and events in the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin", in which whites were seen as intellectually and spiritually superior than blacks, who were generally depicted in the context of being inferior human beings and reduced to slaves.
The black man is portrayed as kneeling below a spiritually superior white man towering over him, depicted in the image of Christ with his crown of thorns and holding a cross.
A group of black men are being auctioned off as slaves to a crowd of watching white men, showing their inferiority as humans because they can be bought and sold like belongings.
A black man is kneeling in front of a white man that is situated on a throne, similar to how Jesus would appear in heaven on his throne. The white man is in full control of the situation, showing how submissive blacks are in the presence of superior whites.
This is a picture of stage makeup for portraying black people; instead of looking like humans, they are instead portrayed almost as simplistic cartoon characters, implying a simplicity of mind.
A group of black children are portrayed as being ill-bred and ill-mannered, along with being so simple and foolish that they dare play on the lawn of wealthy white man; the white man is then forced to punish the children by chasing them off of his lawn.
A young black girl is depicted with abnormal positioning of the eyes to create a devilish look- coupled with a strange facial expression to express a combination of maliciousness and intellectual slowness.
QUESTIONS: MINDY DAI
While the prevailing theme of racism and white superiority is most evident in these pictures, more subtle themes such as depicting blacks as slow and not even "fully human" are shown. Since they are less human and less intelligent, that suggests that blacks are deserving of slavery and worthy of being treated less than white. Even more subtly, there is a deep economic dimension to the majority of the pictures- the black girl with strange eyes is shown as wearing raggedy clothing with numerous holes, the black children are shown as wearing much plainer clothing than the white man, and finally the image of auction shows the white men adorned in symbols of wealth while the black slaves are wearing rags of poverty. Perhaps what is most surprising about these images of white power, is the myriad different ways they could have been viewed in the 1850s, depending on where your original stance on slavery was. For the slave-owners, these pictures reaffirm their power and right over and to slaves but for abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, they would have instead been images of white tyranny and black suffering rebuking the tradition of slavery. It is endlessly fascinating how the same source materials can be used as propaganda for two radically different sides.