The soul within us is impervious to any sort of degradation. It was Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), an African-American social reformer, and abolitionist who said, “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.” But with the introduction of film in the United States African Americans were stereotyped. The Flights of Nation (1907) depicted a lopsided and demented black culture. D.W. Griffith (1875–1948) with The Birth of a Nation (1915) chronicled the story of the free South in the civil war that showed the revenge of the Ku Klux Klan on blacks. This movie which was considered a masterpiece set the precedent of portraying blacks as idlers, brutish, vagabonds, and outcasts.
Role of Blacks
It was Colin Powell (b. 1937), formerly secretary of state of the United States who said, “I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.” Early blacks never had the opportunity to display these traits because of racism, and society excluded them from holding important positions.
Other films showed the grizzled tramp in Jim Tully’s tale of the lowly Beggars of Life (1928), the seaman in James Craze’s Old Ironsides (1926), black roles in Showboat (1927), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927), and others in the early sound films like Dudley Murphy’s St Louis Blues (1929). But some blacks played conventional roles as chorus girls, convicts, boxing trainers, ill-mannered servants, and persons of disrepute.
In the 1940s and 1950s, white actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were the talent behind the popular radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy. These two actors were masters in their imitation of the degrading dialogue most Americans associated with blacks. These condescending techniques made for the popularity of the program.
Chinua Achebe (1930–2013), a Nigerian novelist, and poet wrote, “The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement, it is this.”
In the era of TV, white actors were replaced by blacks in Amos ‘n’ Andy and the show’s popularity continued. Eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was able to persuade Hollywood to abandon negative stereotypes of blacks in their films, and TV followed suit. Such a decision didn’t produce changes overnight, but there was some progress being made.
Christianity & Race
Many Christians have long been opposed to any form of racism. Throughout history there have been a number of abolitionists in the United States and abroad. The Gospel tells us that whether we are Jews or Gentiles God looks at our hearts. People can’t hide their feelings. Jesus Christ was forthright in warning the rich about the exploitation of the poor. Many blacks belong to the lower class because of a past of slavery.
Although many Americans consider themselves Christian racism is still a problem in the society. The Christian faith reminds us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The story of the Good Samaritan is alive and well for everyone to take note. In the 1960s with prayers, sacrifice, and dedication, and social change the Civil Rights era began impacting these wrongs that were degrading our society. And in today’s culture some remnants of the past are still apparent.