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Stereotyping African Americans Through Caricatures

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

Racial stereotypes of the Civil War era are depicted in the drawing and caption of this piece.

Racial stereotypes of the Civil War era are depicted in the drawing and caption of this piece.

Stereotyping African Americans Through Caricatures

African American slavery has left a huge impact on the entirety of humanity since it violated the rights of the concerned slaves in multiple ways. Aside from violating their rights, they were portrayed in highly stereotypical and unbecoming caricatures which impacts the perception of the people towards them.

The US Civil War and Its Implications on African-Americans

It should be noted that the very core of the American Civil War was over slavery. Incomes and wealth in the North came from various industries, while in the South, income was much more dependent on agricultural output (Putlack, 2013). Given this scenario, southerners needed African Americans to maintain their profitable businesses since the use of slaves left them with no labor expenses.

Disagreements over the morality and brutality of slavery spurred the Civil War in the United States, costing 620,000 American casualties in the fight between the Union (the North) and the Confederacy (the South) (p. 23). In the end, the Union won, and Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation for African Americans. At this cost, there are still stains of discrimination in the portrayal of African Americans.

The Caricature and Its Impact

Caricatures of African Americans in the context of slavery painted them as being unfit for civilized life. They were portrayed this way in paintings, drawings, media, and other forms of illustrations. These caricatures go beyond the skirts of the context of the past since it affects the audience of these portrayals until now. The stereotyping of African Americans is way too different from the real characteristics and rich culture that they possess.

As written in the book Playing Races, it is stated that African Americans were portrayed to be highly indulged in gambling and poultry. They are said to be people with cheerful personalities who are politically dead (Wonham, 2004). They are seen to be comical, and men fit for carnival. Others also depicted them to be lazy, highly irresponsible, happy-go-lucky musical lovers who are indulged in sexual instincts as well (p. 4). It is also evident in most of the early forms of cartoons or animations, drawings, and illustrations that their portrait of an African American is a highly dark person with exaggeratedly huge lips. They are either portrayed as uncivilized tribes who usually scare the main characters in the animation away or domestic helpers of the Americans. Although in time, these might have changed, such a concept cannot be erased. Given that these are stereotypes, they are far different from authentic African culture.

Who and What are the African People—Chinua Achebe

If authentic African culture is traced guided by the 1996 book of Chinua Achebe, Africans are by nature, hardworking and responsible. They respect nature and work in harmony in their respective tribes. They have their own social justice systems as well as religious systems. They have a rich culture with respect to social gatherings, social justice, marriage, superstitions, beliefs about nature, and even feasts. They have their own respective beliefs and culture, which cannot be exactly measured using a Western perspective. These are total opposites of the branded characteristics of African Americans as they are portrayed. One reason why they are stereotyped this way is for their oppressors to maintain the African American’s low social status. They have a rich culture than people could think of. They are not bestial beings, just like how they are illustrated in movies or paintings as they are related to savage tribes who kill or eat each other. Africans have their own set of rules and culture even before they were colonized.

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Stereotyping and Its Aftereffects

This stereotyping fostered an image of people undeserving of civilized life. The notion of being happy-go-lucky people with lazy dispositions in life is highly rebuked in a so-called civilized society. With this point of view, they perceive highly irresponsible people to be unworthy of the freedom that they have. Their instinctive impulse stereotype aligns them to a different shade of exoticism making them seemingly fit and appear to really belong to native and uncivilized setups. They are usually connected to humor due to carelessness making them fit for entertainment or unfit to have their freedom. This type of thinking creates the idea of indifference because most people would only pay attention to those who are perceived to be abiding by the standards of society. Putting the standards aside, the portrayal in the first place is highly misleading and stereotypical. The African Americans, already painted in the wrong light, were given a bad image that people would not bat an eyelash upon discrimination and violence against them theoretically in the time of rampant discrimination. The idea would be who would care to protect these lazy creatures, given that they appear not to be responsible in their own ways. This idea gives a false justification for the idea of slavery in the past.

Aside from this, Jim Crow laws also supported this line of thinking as it legalizes African Americans as second-class citizens. Included in these laws are deprivations for them to go against the violations of the Whites as well as to ride public transportation. The total separation of whites from blacks is emphasized in this set of laws or etiquette. The superiority of the whites was emphasized, leaving the blacks voiceless and powerless over the possible violence and injustice against them. Anything that could upset or offend the Whites should never be done by the Blacks because they are just below the Whites as how it goes in these sets of ‘etiquette.’ These rules still boil down to the idea that African Americans are not on the same level as the Americans as to how they were portrayed to be irresponsible and uncivilized.


These caricatures continue to shape the modern perception of African Americans. Although attempts to promote equality and efforts to destroy discrimination are present, the negative perception is still lingering since it cannot be totally eradicated with all the existing portrayals and stereotyping around. The president of the United States now may be an African American, which created a big impact on the overall sense of discrimination, the perception of them being fit for bad guy roles et cetera would remain. It will take time before this can be totally erased.


Achebe, Chinua. (1996). Things Fall Apart. South Africa: Heinemann Educational Publishers. Print.

Putlack, Michael. (2013). American School Textbook Core 3. Seoul: Key Publications, Print.

Wonham, Henry. (2004). Playing the Races: Ethnic Caricature and American Literary Realism. New York: Oxford University Press, Print.

© 2019 Professor S

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