Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Af-Am Visual Operating Sytem

“…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world.” From W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folks, 1903

“There is, however, a culture of the Negro which has been addressed to him and him alone, a culture which has, for good or ill, helped to clarify his consciousness and create emotional attitudes which are conducive to action.” From Richard Wright’s “Blueprint for Negro Writing,” 1937

If you’re part of one of those African American cultural networks, then two or three folks have probably already forwarded you the above photograph of Barack Obama. It’s even possible that you’ve received the image from four or more people.

The image usually circulates with the following caption in colored lettering: “What must it feel like…To carry the hopes and dreams of an entire race of people on your shoulders?”

The juxtaposition of words with the image and their transmission along African American correspondence routes suggest that Obama is thinking about “the hopes and dreams” of black people. Of course, it’s impossible to really know.

What’s fascinating, though, relates to how the image and others like them might prompt certain lines of thinking from black audiences. Long before the rise of Obama, African Americans were being socialized to view and frame black images in particular ways.

Was there variance? Sure. However, the circulation of common ideas and values along an interconnected cultural network have served to solidify a distinct perspective, what we might also view as an African American visual operating system.


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