JACK ANDERSON, Scribble Portrait, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 10, Maret School, Washington, D.C.

JACK ANDERSON, Scribble Portrait, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 10, Maret School, Washington, D.C.

The Alliance/ACT-SO Journey Award, in partnership with the NAACP’s Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), provides $1,000 scholarships for ACT-SO scholars, who also receive a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Medal.

 

Congratulations to our 2020 recipients!

Jack Anderson, Destiny Bocas, Jeffery Keys, and Jacob Roberts-Baca

 

Caricatures and Citizenship, Intertwined
JEFFERY KEYS, Critical Essay. Grade 11, Newark Academy, Livingston, NJ.

Due to the nature of the frequent utilization of political cartoons, analysis of American racial caricatures reveals a series of exaggerated characteristics that throughout history were used to suppress or withhold privileges and citizenship from certain groups, with some stereotypes becoming embedded in American society.  Tracking trends such as shifts of nativism and nationalism during war and comparing them with the prominence of specific caricatures offers a complex narrative detailing the controversy surrounding stigmatized minorities.  Throughout American history, race has been a tool utilized to foster division and discrimination.  From the legislation of Dawes Severalty Act dividing Native American territory, to the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision ruling African-Americans as property, to even the Immigration Quotas of 1924 determining varying levels of white privilege, race serves as a blade slicing apart society and citizenship.  Stereotypes and caricatures have been sculpted by societal discrimination and refined by racially charged legislation, reducing minorities to exaggerated traits in order to capitalize on negative sentiments against certain groups.  The abundantly common use of such stereotypes in the past continue to display its impact in modern day American society.

Those who were deemed “unfit” to possess citizenship were dehumanized in order to justify the theft of their human rights.  Thus, stereotypes and caricatures sought to portray groups as savage, less than human, and generally unworthy to receive the same respect bestowed upon others.  Many factors determine this line of thought, most prominently being limited resources, whether that would be the Native Americans’ land or Chinese workers’ capitalization of job opportunities, and nationalism, with the need and dependency on free labor shackling the Black slave population and the antagonist Axis Japanese forces giving an excuse to intern Japanese-Americans in camps.  Racial discrimination has been used to create legislation to exploit and combat these racial discrepancies, with throughout time, different laws and acts stripping away citizenship from American residents.  The excuse for these blatant showings of racism were facilitated through years of stereotypes and caricatures being embedded within American society.  Therefore, through a thorough analysis of racially charged legislation relating to citizenship, what will become exposed but a culmination of a series of various caricatures that influenced discrimination and dehumanization, coupled with correlations to catalyst events.

The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 sought to sever Native American tribal relations and eliminate Native culture, working to fully integrate the indigenous peoples into American society.  From the fledgling breaths of expansionism, American conflicts with Native Americans were inevitable, seeing as the latter inhabited the land long before Europeans arrived.  Neglected treaties and bouts of violence defined American-Native American interactions prior to the late 19th century, with the Dawes Severalty Act attempting a new approach.  Allowing President Grover Cleveland to divide communal reservations into land sections to be assigned to individual Native Americans, if the head of a household retained the land for 25 years, the Dawes Act dangles the notion of American citizenship over the heads of Natives — in exchange for their complete abandonment of their culture and way of life.  This, of course, is result of the European and American belief that Native Americans were savage, primitive beings in need of proper control and civilization.  This is further evidenced by the Five Civilized Tribes being absent from the conditions of the original Dawes Severalty Act, with those Natives already being heavily assimilated.  These five tribes, those being the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, and Seminole, were already subject to European influence, and demonstrated Anglo assimilation through their education, adoption of written language utilizing the English alphabet, and their widespread use of the printing press in items such as the newspaper.  Evidently, as these tribes were already assimilated, there was no need to enforce efforts to integrate them within American culture.  However, the chance of obtaining citizenship and becoming a part of “civilized” American society was used as a tool to exploit Native Americans through the Dawes Severalty Act.

The savage, barbaric, primitive caricatures that Native American people were so often reduced to since the beginning of European contact laid the framework for their absence of citizenship impacting them for centuries upon centuries to come.  Upon arrival, Europeans regarded the Natives as uncivilized, primitive beings lacking clear structure, and in desperate need of religion.  Through media, European media depicted Natives as bloodthirsty savages who relied on barbaric violence, as opposed to the “civilized” methods of war enacted by the Europeans.  These early stereotypes seeped into European colonies, adopted by the American public to be further spread to create a negative narrative against their fellow continental residents.  These stereotypes and caricatures of primitive beasts even appear in arguably the most important piece of legislation in American history: the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson writes, “[King George III] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”  A document so ingrained within American society supports and promotes the caricatures depicting Native Americans as “savages”, creating an early onset for conflict between the two groups, the ever-emerging prominence of “primitive Native” stereotypes, and the view that these indigenous “beasts” need to become assimilated and contained.  The fight for citizenship for Native American people began with the first steps of foreign feet upon the North American soil, originating from the Europeans’ first contact with indigenous peoples, bred within the words that allegedly granted Americans freedom and independence, and fostered for centuries.

With a stereotype so embedded within American history, it should come as no surprise that its impact is still being felt today.  The “Indian” stereotype is often used in various forms of merchandise, from the stereotypical tribal savage adorning colonial tobacco packaging to modern sports franchises.  Artist Willie Cole expresses the impact of his people being treated as a savage, dehumanized species with his piece Silex Male, Ritual.  Photographed with ink marks and minimal clothing and captioned with “Fig. 1 & 2.  Silex Male, Ritual,” Cole compares himself, a Native American male, to a foreign creature being documented within an anthropology, or rather, zoology, textbook.  Being treated as uncivilized tribes, devoid of citizenship or respect, the Native American population has endured countless caricaturization depicting them as an entirely separate species.  Ultimately, in the fight to take away land from the Natives, America has stripped away their citizenship, humanity, and culture through extensive use of stereotyping.

After slave Dred Scott attempted to sue for his freedom in 1846, U.S. Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford provides one of the most crucial decisions both in regards to the American division on slavery, and the question of citizenship as a whole.  In a count of 7 to 2, 1857’s U.S. Supreme Court decides that Dred Scott cannot sue for his freedom because he was not a citizen of the United States; in fact, no person of African descent is a citizen of the United States, denied from obtaining any privileges that come with citizenship.  The transcript reads, “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States… Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.”  This ruling stripped all Black people of their citizenship and the “unalienable” rights that come with it.  With its radical and devastating ruling, both depriving all Black people of their citizenship as well as ruling the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional for breaching the Fifth Amendment’s protection of private property, the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision inexorably contributed to the fission dividing the country, leading to the Civil War.

When analyzing the decision that allowed Black people to be denied their human rights granted with citizenship, one must consider the plethora of Black caricatures used to dehumanize, parody, and villainize the Black race.  These exaggerated stereotypes were used to justify such deprivations of rights and breaches of liberty against Black people.  Perhaps an extension of the ash black figures in leaf garments plastered onto colonial Virginia tobacco labels, the “Sambo” caricature describes an unintelligent, primitive Black male.  Boston University’s Joseph Boskin cites the Sambo stereotype as an instance of American society utilizing humor as a form of oppression.  The “Mandingo” caricature depicts a hulking, aggressive Black man, more of a monstrous, beastly animal than a human. Used as a method to better sell laborers and mates during slave auctions, the Mandingo stereotype has plagued culture and society.  This caricature was used to justify lynchings, instilling a fear within the American public that Black men have a sexual thirst that cannot be quenched.  Rape accusations ran rampant, pairing the Mandingo’s sexual desire and strength to frame Black men as delinquents, serving as an excuse to promote the murder and torture of innocent men.  Today, the Mandingo stereotype is used to oppress athletes, diminishing or exploiting accomplished Black competitors.  Derived from the biblical wife of King Ahab who convinces the king to engage in sin, the “Jezebel” stereotype portrays Black women as sinful and predatory.  Twisting the matrilineal nature of African civilizations that allowed polyamorous relationships, the Jezebel caricature was a tempting seductress who lured men into lust and sin.  In reality, the Jezebel stereotype was used as an excuse to justify the raping of Black slaves.  These stereotypes were used to constantly defend oppression against Black people, with the caricatures being used to sell a false narrative to deny Black people rights, respect, and citizenship.

The prominence of these caricatures aim to emphasize negative aspects of human nature, painting Black people as a helpless race who depended on the Caucasian population to survive.  By creating tales of aggression and seduction, excuses were made to rationalize the murder and rape of innocent Blacks.  These caricatures provided justification for a perpetuated cycle of oppression, keeping citizenship far away from the hands of Black people stereotyped as animalistic, sinful, and helpless.

1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act barred Chinese immigrants from arriving on American shores based solely on their race.  Regarded as the groundwork for future restrictions on immigration policies, the Chinese Exclusion Act was a blatant act of racism that not only prevented migration from the country for an entire decade, but banned legal residents from becoming citizens.  Andrew Gyory, recipient of a Ph.D. in history from the University of Massachusetts, argues that politicians blamed America’s industrial crisis on the influx of Chinese immigrant workers, expressing that workers would benefit from the absence of the Chinese.  Therefore, the racially based legislation was product of racist propaganda depicting Chinese immigrants as an evil force intended to destroy America internally.

Drawn with squinted eyes, long queues, buck teeth, and yellow skin, Asian caricatures depict a ratty, primitive, immoral creature, with this depiction aiming to vindicate the decision to completely ban immigration and deny citizenship to residents based on race.  Dominating the East Asian caricature scene is the “Yellow Peril”, the belief that primitive beings will flood America from their homeland and invade the country. To the American laborers, the increasing competition provided much concern for their job stability, eliminating any leverage in terms of unionization and putting their opportunities in jeopardy.  The fear of job stability due to the influx of Chinese laborers manifested itself into a fear of the nation’s security against the foreign horde from across the globe. Chinese people were depicted as heavily violent creatures who enjoyed engaging in immoral activities, savages with drug addictions and an affinity for prostitution and gambling. The majority of male Chinese immigrants led to the belief that the creatures from the Eastern world posed a threat to the American women, and by extension the male population’s relationship to the females.  Overall, the Yellow Peril stereotype was constructed in a fashion so that the Chinese immigrants posed a threat to all residents of America: the male workers’ jobs were jeopardized by the influx of cheap Chinese laborers, while the women of America were at risk in the presence of the violent, immoral yellow savages.  This bred a sense of xenophobia against the Chinese which ultimately led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, but interestingly was applicable to any East Asian threat.  During World War II, the Yellow Peril extended to the Japanese and led to the Executive Order 9066 that authorizes Japanese internment camps.  The Korean War villainized the “gooks”, with the subsequent Vietnam War imposing the Yellow Peril upon Vietnam people.  The Yellow Peril caricature became relevant multiple times in American society, becoming a blanket stereotype for all East Asian groups.  The versatility of this caricature speaks volumes to the xenophobia demonstrated by the American population, conjuring such fear as to oppress multiple countries of people, denying all immigration and prohibiting American residents from obtaining citizenship based solely on their race.

In the Naturalization Act of 1790, a clear distinction was made between all whites and those non-white in regards to citizenship with the phrase, “Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That any alien, being a free white person, may become a citizen of the United States…”  This created a clear fission between white people and colored people in America, with only white people having the access to citizenship and rights.  Nativists were not content with a line being drawn between only whites and non-whites, however, with the National Origins Act of 1924 introducing subsects to white privilege by limiting the amount of people who can immigrate to America from certain regions.  The National Origins Act, also referred to as the Immigration Act of 1924, heavily favored the Northwestern Europeans and prioritized their immigration, with the newer European immigrants from South and East Europe being discriminated against. Southern and Eastern Europeans were practically seen as a separate race, emphasizing the social aspect of race privilege discrepancies.

The concept of “whiteness” and white privilege became more complex with the Immigration Act of 1924, with intentional mistreatment and the denial of citizenship towards certain groups of Europeans being propelled by historical abuse trickling into American culture.  By basing the limitations of immigrants from European regions on 2% of their area’s prevalence in the 1890 U.S. population, immigration from South and East Europe were intentionally restricted by the Immigration Act of 1924.  Perhaps the most oppressed and discriminated group from this category is the Jewish, with stereotypes coming not only from America, but seemingly throughout the Western world.  Being a nomadic group two thousand years ago, Jewish people were often always seen as outsiders, and because of the prevalence of Christianity in Europe, religion was often the subject of conflict.  America’s tendency to be influenced by European values continued with their adoption of European sentiments regarding Jewish people, resulting in a plethora of caricatures and stereotypes against them.  As a religion, Judaism was seen as a tribal, backwards way of thought and life for bigoted people that undermined and contradicted the compassionate and kind Christianity, with its strict traditions posing a threat to the progressive American values.  The seemingly immoral religion led to the stereotype that Jews were violent and dirty, willing to participate in illegal activity to gain money, another method of drawing stark contrasts between the immigrant Jewish and the American laborers.  By popularizing the disparity between the American belief of hard work for honest pay with the stereotype that Jews engage in shady acts to become wealthy illegitimately, the negative zeitgeist against Jewish people became more prevalent in American society, thanks in part to the emergence of such stereotypes in popular culture.  These caricatures continued to paint Jewish people as criminals who would do increasingly more sinister acts, such as commit arson, just as a convenient way to obtain wealth.  Therefore, the caricatures against Jewish people were utilized as a method to emphasize their contrast to the general American public, highlighting how they would not belong in American society.  The stereotypes describing Jews as criminals accumulating assets in ominous, felonious ways seemingly justified limiting their immigration to the United States, as well as created a stigma against them in American society.  The different subsections of white superiority became established with the caricatures against Jewish people and other South and East European immigrants, demonstrating the value American citizenship has, and the methods in which it is used to differentiate power discrepancies between classes.

Caricatures were used throughout American history to deny certain groups the benefits of citizenship.  As Patrick Wolfe demonstrates in his “Race and Citizenship”, “race restored the social inequality that citizenship had theoretically abolished.”  Stereotypes against races fostered justifications for discriminatory legislations, further embedding racism within American culture. Another method in which caricatures and stereotypes became bolstered within America was through media, with popular culture being a means by which public sentiments against certain minority groups were expressed and enhanced.  From early European stereotypes influencing the American view of the savage Natives and the criminal Jews, to the years of dependency upon slave labor creating numerous figures and methods to oppress Black people, to the fear of job security and opportunity creating flexible, versatile stereotype that discriminates against East Asians, caricatures have appeared throughout history to determine who should be treated as human beings.  Citizenship has been used as an identifier of sorts, determining which groups should be granted rights and respect.  The nature of caricaturization is to emphasize and exaggerate inferior traits and to sell false narratives to promote stigmas, almost determining which groups possess qualities that deem them less than human.  Therefore, the study of the relationship between caricatures and citizenship, one researching the legislation denying citizenship to groups that have been heavily caricatured, examines the hypocrisy of America through the constant fluctuations concerning who is gifted the privilege of humanity.

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