African American Stereotypes

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African Americans have been a part of music since the beginning of time, and not always in the best way possible. From the crude and grotesque humor of minstrelsy to the ridicule and appropriation of ragtime, African Americans have been the punchline to a longstanding joke of stereotypes in pre-1920’s music. With the introduction of sheet music creating a tangible and efficient way to distribute music, the racist representations of African Americans were forever preserved and widely perpetuated as a means of generating popularity and revenue. This is especially true in the case of how composers presented African American women during this period. From 1890-1920, the depictions of African American women in sheet music capitalized upon the public’s …show more content…
Created to affirm intended white supremacy, Zip Coon was a misconstrued caricature of an upper class African American. He was commonly dressed in the clothes that are representative of an aristocratic white man, but drawn to an extent where his garb looked ridiculous, thus making his self-perceived social status to be falsely placed. Various pieces of sheet music relating to the African American woman adapted this idea of the Zip Coon character to ridicule the women. The cover illustration for the 1987 song “Lady Africa” by Dave Reed displays a female version of the misconstrued upper class African American woman. The woman on the cover is wearing a Victorian style dress with puffy sleeves, a parasol, and an ornate feather hat. Given the trends of the past, it may be inferred from the darkened skin on her face and her white hands that this cover is a marker of the former popularity of blackface minstrelsy as a means of discrimination against African Americans. The lyrics of this song intensify the same discrimination, using offensive language to refer to the people of color who are not specifically mentioned in the song. During this time, it was commonplace to use words such as “coon” and “nigger” to appeal to the ingrained idea that whites were above blacks in society. By using words that defamed African Americans, the white public found solace in the fact that

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