February is not just about groundhogs and valentines. SUNY Fredonia's Black Student Union kicked off Black History Month Tuesday with a dinner and speaker.
SUNY Fredonia English Professor Dr. Sandra Liggins spoke about how the African-American image has changed in show business over time.
She used pictures and videos to demonstrate how in the 19th century African Americans were portrayed as lazy like a Jim Crow character or a "dandy" like a Zip Coon character. Both of these stereotypes were spread throughout the U.S. and Europe and were used to reinforce the idea that slavery was good for African Americans.
Fredonia State kicks off Black History Month
Liggins said with the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century, African Americans began to take over their image but were still viewed as "exotic" and although Jazz music was popular the culture behind it was not truly appreciated by the mainstream.
"What is missing is the appreciation of African American humanity ... A lot of people were interested in Jazz music at the time ... but no one really cared about African Americans, like I want to listen to their music but I don't want them moving next to me ... and I certainly don't want to marry them," she explained.
Fastforwarding to the 1970's Liggins also spoke of new stereotypes from "Blacksploitation films" like Shaft and Foxy Brown. She said even though the images were not portraying lazy characters, violent men and hyper-sexual women, were not much of an improvement.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
Pictured is SUNY Fredonia English Professor Dr. Sandra Liggins, who gave a presentation on the image of African Americans in show business over time as part of the Black Student Union’s Black History Month kickoff event.
She said in recent years great strides have been made by some African American entertainers, however movies like The Help and Tyler Perry's Madea movies still portray stereotypes.
"In 2011 where are we seeing Black women in films? We see black men pretending to be black women in Tyler Perry films or we have black women playing maids," she said.
She said that although the image of African Americans has changed overtime, the change has still not yielded true portrayals of African American characters.
"When Africans first arrived in the new world in the 17th century they were depicted in one way by a dominant society and you can go through a couple of centuries where you finally start depicting ourselves for ourselves. But how much has it really changed? Are we no longer the Hottentot Venus, are we no longer the Zip Coon or the Jim Crow? How much have we changed? I will let you decide," she said.
She added the only way to work toward a true depiction is to hold those who make stereotypical films accountable and to support movies that depict true characters.
Liggins was an appropriate choice to kick off the month's list of events because there will be three movies shown and two comedians HypnoBro and Queen Aisha will perform during the month of February. Other events include a roller disco and the closing ceremony.
A full list of events can be found at www.fredonia.edu.