White on Black

Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture

Jan Nederveen Pieterse

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White on Black is a compelling visual history of the development of European and American stereotypes of black people over the last two hundred years. Its purpose is to show the pervasiveness of prejudice against blacks throughout the western world as expressed in stock-in-trade racist imagery and caricature. Reproducing a wide range of illustrations—from engravings and lithographs to advertisements, candy wrappings, biscuit tins, dolls, posters, and comic strips—the book challenges the hidden assumptions of even those who view themselves as unprejudiced.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse sets Western images of Africa and blacks in a chronological framework, including representations from medieval times, from the colonial period with its explorers, settlers, and missionaries, from the era of slavery and abolition, and from the multicultural societies of the present day. Pieterse shows that blacks have been routinely depicted throughout the West as servants, entertainers, and athletes, and that particular countries have developed their own comforting black stereotypes about blacks: Sambo and Uncle Tom in the United States, Golliwog in Britain, Bamboula in France, and Black Peter in the Netherlands. Looking at conventional portrayals of blacks in the nursery, in sexual arenas, and in commerce and advertising, Pieterse analyzes the conceptual roots of the stereotypes about them. The images that he presents have a direct and dramatic impact, and they raise questions about the expression of power within popular culture and the force of caricature, humor, and parody as instruments of oppression.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse is Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague.

"What is most valuable about the book is the sheer weight of prejudice as expressed in multiple forms of negative stereotyping. It examines [these] as they appear in virtually every aspect of everyday life. In the end we are forced to confront how total and how steady the barrage of negative images really was, and in how many aspects of life these images were imposed."—David E. Apter, Yale University

"[A] splendid book. . . . A fascinating and scholarly work."—Yvonne Brewster, Vogue (U.K. edition)

"What makes White on Black eye-opening is its cross-cultural compendiousness. . . . Pieterse documents the differences as well as the affinities between the European experience with blacks, primarily through colonialism, and America's, primarily through slavery."—Ken Emerson, New York Newsday

"White on Black is more than an album. It is also a richly annotated but readable history of black-white relationships on three continents and in many different eras."—T. Obinkaram Echewa, Philadelphia Inquirer

"A fascinating examination of the many images of Africa and blacks to be found in popular culture sources. . . . Extremely readable. . . . An important addition to the collections of art libraries."—Deborah L. Barlow, Art Documentation

"The main subject of this important book is neither Africa nor Blacks, but ourselves. . . . With its magnificent and striking pictures, White on Black is absorbing entertainment. But for readers in Western Europe and in North America, it provides an exemplary lesson in self-revelation."—W.F. Wertheim, The Guardian

"Readable and informative. . . . He has developed . . . a crucial issue."—Andrew St. George, Financial Times

"White on Black: Images of Africa and Blacks in Western Popular Culture is a detailed history of racial stereotyping in advertising and the arts, covering the last 400 years in America, Europe and South Africa."—Jeff Danziger, The Chicago Herald

"A substantial monograph on cultural image and presentation. . . . It is sufficiently shot through with serious ideas."—Bill Freund, Southern African Review of Books

"Jan Nederveen Pieterse's White on Black . . . is a compelling visual history of how blacks have been depicted for over four hundred years in Western cultures around the world."—Midwest Book

"A stimulating as well as sobering look at how enormously varied cultures unite in their portrayal of blacks as stupid, brutal, and oversexed."—Rhoda Koenig, New York

"Erudite, thorough, and refreshingly succinct. . . . The self-contained chapters, extensive bibliography, and comprehensive index make it an excellent reference source. For academics and students of design history, cultural and media studies, and material culture it is an invaluable publication."—Alison Clarke, Journal of Design History

"Pieterse is a well-informed tour guide in this museum of misanthropy. . . . There is a deftness of narrative movement and a clarity of exposition that keep the pace brisk and true."—Bernth Lindfors, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Prof. Pieterse's book is certainly the most clearly written and wide-ranging study of its type that I have come across. . . . His study should be compulsory reading in advertising agencies and media groups looking to break away from the poverty of the imagery with which they still persist in trying to seduce us."—Patrick O'Connor, Literary Review

"Pieterse's treatment of these degrading stereotypes as functions and weapons of Western colonialism is impressively persuasive."—Winthrop D. Jordan, American Historical Review

"[A] well-written and well-illustrated work. . . . A truly comparative intellectual history of stereotyping and racism over time."—Kenneth W. Goings, American Studies

"An informative, interesting, and even entertaining work. It is an important work that traces the social, economic, and psychical interstices between white producers and white consumers of black stereotypes. This text presents cultural studies with its first popular history of sterotypes in Europe and the United States and chronicles the sublime function of these images in our contemporary times."—Mark A. Reid, Research in African Literatures

"White on Black provides eloquent evidence that the creation of Western racism was a more-or-less conscious series of acts and activities. Pieterse has crafted a complex and challenging book that is startling in its clarity. The illustrations strike like lightning, the text cuts with surgical certainty. . . . Highly recommended for all public and academic collections."—Jon McGill, Multicultural Review

"Any theoretization of the relationship between popular culture and western racist representation necessarily rests on access to the kind of serious and comprehensive archival research Pieterse provides in White on Black. The strength of his study lies . . . in its retrieval of a vast array of images whose arrangement raises, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, complex issues for subsequent students of race and popular culture to pursue."—Robyn Wiegman, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"A well-written, lavishly illustrated addition to the study of the ways in which Africans and diasporic Blacks have been represented in Western cultures. . . . Much of what Pieterse has to say is acute in its perception, illuminating in its critical examination of the material of black memorabilia, and solidly supported by its empirical detail and scholarly reference."—Michael Pickering, Journal of Social History

"White on Black stands as a compact, major survey of crucial themes in modern world history. Even specialists in the concerned fields will encounter material that is fresh."—Kenneth P. Vickery, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Must be on the shelves of those professing an interest in minorities, for its more than 300 illustrations of Africans and Africa-descent people, as presented in western Europe and the USA, are embarrassing, interesting, and provoking."—Jeffrey Green, Immigrants & Minorities

ISBN: 9780300063110
Publication Date: February 22, 1995
Publishing Partner: Published in association with Cosmic Illusion Productions, Amsterdam
259 pages, 7 x 9 3/4
242 b/w illus.