Lecture explores media, Black Power movement
Siying Yang | Friday, October 31, 2014
Dr. Jane Rhodes, Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and Professor and Chair of American Studies at Macalester College, gave a lecture titled “Black Women, Black Power and the Media’s Glare” in Hesburgh Center Auditorium on Thursday evening.
Dr. Rhodes, who specializes in the study of race, gender and mass media, said black power is influenced by and demonstrated through photographs and images, which change the way we understand the black body.
Rhondes also said the black press is often very different from mainstream press.
Black women were often pictured as “helpmates to male authority” and “associated with tragedy,” Rhodes said. For these images, Rhodes said she blames the photographers who took them.
“The profound aesthetic transformation of black women’s hair also becomes political statement,” Rhodes said. “To have short natural hair, to use black women as models, and to promote black beauty, is a political notion.”
She then talked about “core figures” of black women: Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown, Assata Shakur, Michelle Obama and Nicki Minaj.
“When I did a search on New York Times, I found about 1600 articles about Angela Davis,” Rhodes said. “There are some key things to know about Angela Davis. She was a communist. She was connected to [the Black Panther Party] for a short period. She moved to UCLA and was hired as a philosophy professor.”
In 1970, she was accused in a murder case, but was acquitted by all-white jury, Rhodes said.
“We love the sensationalism of the story,” Rhodes said. “As someone who is from a middle class family … and has a graduate degree … how can [Davis] become so radical? A terrorist, that’s how she was labeled.”
Rhodes also said Kathleen Cleaver brought a high level of media savvy to the “Black Power” movement.
“Kathleen Cleaver was the Party’s communications secretary,” Dr. Rhodes said. “One of the things that is fascinating about Kathleen is that she is skilled in public relations. She staged photographs, but she didn’t provide the media with sensationalized story … and she was too deeply connected to the Black Panther Party.”
Elaine Brown represents the next generation of Black Nationalists and the first bona-fide female leader of Black Panther Party, although she was never captured in the media gaze, and few people really know who she really is until her memoir was published, Rhodes said.
Michelle Obama’s frame of being “dangerous and un-American” also reflects the fear of black women and black power, and Nicki Minaj is inheriting the legacy of women in the black power movement, Rhodes said.