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Racial Publicity and Propaganda

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Abstract:

“All Art is Propaganda and ever must be,” announced W. E. B. Du Bois in 1926, defending black cultural production from its association with racial “propaganda” and its consequent aesthetic devaluation. Aesthetic considerations aside, cultural productions of many kinds act as forms of racial publicity, seeking to inform and to influence public opinion. From this perspective, the black press, as a form of publicity, offers a positive version of propaganda that counters hegemonic racist representations of African Americans. And yet propaganda is frequently associated with “half-truths” that deceive under the guise of informing, suppressing alternative representations of reality or ideologies. Hence, a key feature of propaganda is the tension between widespread (or systematic) distribution and forms of censorship, dissemination and suppression. In this paper I explore this dialectical tension between dissemination and suppression in the publicity produced by the African American press at its inception in the early 19th century.



The founding of _Freedom’s Journal_ in 1827 marked the inauguration of African American’s semi-autonomous access to regional and national public spheres. As the editors declared in their founding issue, “now we can speak for ourselves.” From this perspective, black publicity offered a counter-hegemonic form of speech in which blacks, as the subjects of their own discourse, could offer putatively unmediated versions of “themselves.” This public racial representation, hence, was perceived as an exercise in free speech that heralded African Americans’ participation in US citizenship. But what happened when members of the subaltern community exercised their right to “free speech” by questioning the grounding assumptions of the black press? How did African Americans express dissent within a semi-autonomous public sphere directed toward influencing white public opinion? If the black press functioned as a counter-hegemonic sphere that offered expressive access to African Americans at the margins of white society, what was the status of dissent from the margins of such a counter-hegemonic sphere? In other words, how did African Americans mediate the role of publicity as a form of propaganda with the role of publicity as a channel for public debate? What happens when the members supposedly represented in a subaltern (counter) public attempt to modify the form and content of racial propaganda?



In my paper, I will explore a case that dramatizes the black press’s conflicting efforts to influence a hostile public and to offer a forum for intraracial public debate. An 1837 debate between the editors of the ­­_Colored American_ and Peter Paul Simons, a porter, showcases the tensions between dissemination and censorship inhering in racial publicity. Editor Samuel Cornish’s refusal to print a speech that Simons had given at a women’s society, and the resulting feud between Cornish and Simon, suggests that a counter-hegemonic public sphere is defined not only in relation to a hegemonic public sphere, but also in relation to how well it controls access to, and debates within, counter-hegemonic propaganda.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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MLA Citation:

Santamarina, Xiomara. "Racial Publicity and Propaganda" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243570_index.html>

APA Citation:

Santamarina, X. "Racial Publicity and Propaganda" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243570_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: “All Art is Propaganda and ever must be,” announced W. E. B. Du Bois in 1926, defending black cultural production from its association with racial “propaganda” and its consequent aesthetic devaluation. Aesthetic considerations aside, cultural productions of many kinds act as forms of racial publicity, seeking to inform and to influence public opinion. From this perspective, the black press, as a form of publicity, offers a positive version of propaganda that counters hegemonic racist representations of African Americans. And yet propaganda is frequently associated with “half-truths” that deceive under the guise of informing, suppressing alternative representations of reality or ideologies. Hence, a key feature of propaganda is the tension between widespread (or systematic) distribution and forms of censorship, dissemination and suppression. In this paper I explore this dialectical tension between dissemination and suppression in the publicity produced by the African American press at its inception in the early 19th century.



The founding of _Freedom’s Journal_ in 1827 marked the inauguration of African American’s semi-autonomous access to regional and national public spheres. As the editors declared in their founding issue, “now we can speak for ourselves.” From this perspective, black publicity offered a counter-hegemonic form of speech in which blacks, as the subjects of their own discourse, could offer putatively unmediated versions of “themselves.” This public racial representation, hence, was perceived as an exercise in free speech that heralded African Americans’ participation in US citizenship. But what happened when members of the subaltern community exercised their right to “free speech” by questioning the grounding assumptions of the black press? How did African Americans express dissent within a semi-autonomous public sphere directed toward influencing white public opinion? If the black press functioned as a counter-hegemonic sphere that offered expressive access to African Americans at the margins of white society, what was the status of dissent from the margins of such a counter-hegemonic sphere? In other words, how did African Americans mediate the role of publicity as a form of propaganda with the role of publicity as a channel for public debate? What happens when the members supposedly represented in a subaltern (counter) public attempt to modify the form and content of racial propaganda?



In my paper, I will explore a case that dramatizes the black press’s conflicting efforts to influence a hostile public and to offer a forum for intraracial public debate. An 1837 debate between the editors of the ­­_Colored American_ and Peter Paul Simons, a porter, showcases the tensions between dissemination and censorship inhering in racial publicity. Editor Samuel Cornish’s refusal to print a speech that Simons had given at a women’s society, and the resulting feud between Cornish and Simon, suggests that a counter-hegemonic public sphere is defined not only in relation to a hegemonic public sphere, but also in relation to how well it controls access to, and debates within, counter-hegemonic propaganda.


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