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Negative Stereotypes of Black Americans

The thought of black nationalism within Afrofuturistic texts seems to exude within Delany’s writings about African Americans. It is believed that Delany wrote Blake in response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852, a novel that helped popularize and further ingrain American society with the negative stereotypes that were forced upon African Americans. This best-selling novel was chock full of characters with racist stereotypes such as Uncle Tom, the character who is all too eager to please white society and was seen as the happy darky, Topsy, the representation of the pickaninny black children with their unkempt appearance, Aunt Chloe, the mammy who dotes on the white children and cooks for white families, Eliza, the tragic mulatto who is of light complexion and over sexualized, and lastly there was Quimbo, the enforcer a black slave that was shown preferential treatment by whipping or beating other slaves (See Figures 1-5). Stowe created these characters based on what Euro-American society viewed African Americans to resemble, so it is of no surprise that a few stories were written to show African Americans in a more positive light.

Fig. 1. Uncle Tom from: Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Fig. 2. Pickaninny from: The 25 Most Racist Food Advertisements

Fig. 3. Mammy from: Gone with the Wind (1939)

Fig. 4. Tragic Mulatto from: Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Fig. 5. Quimbo from: Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Afrofuturism aims to not just focus on the past slavery history of African Americans, but to envision a past that is devoid of such a human atrocity. Before Afrofuturist texts, African Americans were often represented negatively light due to society accepting and not trying to change narratives. Since, “Uncle Tom's Cabin and blackface both relied on impressions of slave culture that profoundly shaped black and white American identities; both were invested in the national tensions that led to the Civil War; and both had liberatory effects even as they seeded American culture with racist stereotypes” (Richards 204). These stereotypes not only vexed African Americans at the time, but also the Caucasians in society. The book proved even more divisive when, “president Abraham Lincoln greeted Stowe at the White House in 1862, he reportedly said, ‘So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war’” (Richards 204). In the nineteenth-century the reactions towards Uncle Tom’s Cabin were often mixed and created further problems for African Americans who sought to be more than a stereotype.

Much like Delany, Stowe’s book started as a series in the weekly periodicals. This shows how the American public were more apt to read a newspaper article, rather than take the time to finish a mass volume of an entire novel. Much like today, the general public would rather read excerpts and short stories that grasp their attention, rather than mass volumes. By doing so, these short stories tend to resonate within the mind and can be conversationally brought up easier. So, yet again, through Uncle Tom’s Cabin, African Americans were thrust into the public view through the lens of biased social stereotypes, rendering them useless or worse, socially invisible. The public view tended to shift from fictional to science fictional as society progressed, as a way of creating a future based on variations of pasts and futures.