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Cultural Identity Of Blacks From 1865 1940

1767 words - 7 pages

Cultural Identity from 1865-1940The cultural identity of blacks in the United States from 1865 through 1940 progressed from a racism based on inferiority due to bloodlines and biology to a racism centered on socio-economic policies and beliefs. Blacks that were middle-class in the 1900's were still considered "niggers," and not fully human (Lorini, 39). Racism was prominent during the world's fair era, with the imperialist dogmatic belief that the United States needed to spread its boundaries to civilize less fortunate, culturally inferior beings after 1865, and throughout the Spanish-American War. Blacks perceived themselves in various ways, as shown through the viewpoints of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington versus other, less privileged blacks. Whites were varied as well, from the strong anti-civil rights President Johnson, to the significant undercurrent of rights activists, like Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryant. While many books make it seem as though blacks were bitter over justice being prevented, and all whites were racist, the truth was that there was a strong opposition to the way blacks were treated, and there was a group of blacks that agreed with segregation tactics. Through the world's fairs, US imperialist dogma, the entertainment industry, and other aspects of the public sphere, divided opinions were present from 1865 through 1940.Between 1876 and 1916, beginning with Philadelphia and ending with San Diego, Americans were host to twelve world's fairs. On the one hand, these fairs celebrated material and technological progress. On the other, according to Robert Rydell in All the World's a Fair, they offered a view of strange lands and customs that were intended to reinforce racism and prepare Americans for imperialistic adventures. Rydell argues that the early world's fairs served to legitimate racism. He pays particular attention to the displays of nonwhite peoples at the fairs that were set up by professional showmen, but endorsed and often supported by renowned anthropologists. Rydell insists that an American elite threatened by popular, democratic forces encouraged the social and anthropological elements in these fairs, and were intent upon preserving their own dominance, shaping "the world view of millions of Americans" (Rydell p. 235). He concludes that, "Largely as a result of the expositions, nationalism and racism became crucial parts of the legitimizing ideology offered to a nation torn by class conflict" (Rydell p. 236)."Initially, many blacks expected to play a large part in the Centennial and looked upon the fair as an opportunity to demonstrate their contributions to America's historical development" (Rydell p. 27). "[This] quickly disappeared as it became apparent that no black representative would be appointed to positions of authority on any of the various commissions governing the fair" (Rydell p.52). The blacks had been looking forward to participating in the world's fair; they had assumed their...

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