Subversion At Your Table

I’m going to connect how subversion has always been a tactic to undermine the rising “Black Consciousness.” My examples will be Ida B. Wells and Aunt Jemima, the 1965-68 Race Riots in Detroit, Newark, NJ and L.A. Watts, and the 1992 L.A. Riots/Gangsta Rap.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) journalist, suffragist, sociologist, and feminist was a prominent voice for the civil rights movement during the 19th-20th century. Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign (which consisted of traveling throughout the South giving lectures on the brutality of white supremacy) reveals the frustration that Black women felt towards America because of the horrid practices that Black people faced daily. On March 9, 1892, three Black men Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Steward co-owners of The People’s Grocery were taken outside the Memphis city limits to be lynched/shot. Thomas Moss was a close friend of Wells. This impacted Wells greatly and her response to the lynching was immediate. In the Free Speech, an all-Black newspaper at that time. Wells wrote, “The City of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms…” pg.62 By These Hands. This was the beginning of Wells’s anti-lynching crusade that spanned the next several decades. Wells felt it her duty to expose/examine the lynching of Black people. Wells’s analysis of the lynching of Blacks was that when Blacks were set free in 1863 a direct economic loss had occurred. Black people were no longer profitable and in turn came the freedom to lynch Blacks. For more information on the history of lynching in the United States check out:

Wells became a hated woman throughout the South because of her protest against the inhumane practice of lynching and other racist’s practices. One of the ways the dominant culture (white supremacy) attempted to disparage the activism of Ida B. Wells and other Black activists was through the image of Aunt Jemima. The company who created the Aunt Jemima brand was founded in the early 1890’s by a white man named Chris Rutt. Nancy Green a Black woman was hired to dress in costume and flip pancakes at the 1893 World’s Fair (Columbian Exposition). While Nancy was flipping pancakes at the Exposition, Wells at the time was handing out the protest pamphlet “The Reason Why: The Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition.” Wells and her supporters wanted the public to know that the fair was an extension of white America’s animosity towards Black people. Another pamphlet created to undermine Ida B. Wells’s protest was titled “When Robert E. Lee Stopped at Aunt Jemima’s Cabin” written by Purd Wright. For further analysis of Purd Wright’s pamphlet read pg.65 By These Hands.

To summarize the connection between Ida B. Wells and Aunt Jemima (Nancy Green), I’ll end here with a quote, “In her homespun calico garb with a turban around her head, Aunt Jemima comforted the public; in her businesslike attire with a fashionable hat on her head, Ida B. Wells vexed the public. Aunt Jemima’s was the kind of face people wanted to remember; Ida B. Wells was the kind they wanted to forget. And that is exactly what happened.” Patricia Turner

The importance of this analysis is that historically whenever influential Black leaders/organizations have exposed the racist practices of America there was a need to subvert that message. In the 1965-68 Race Riots that took place across the United States (Detroit, L.A. Watts, Newark, NJ) it was the Black youth who led those riots. They were now politically oriented and starting to define who they were as urban Black people. To undermine this message of Black Power, Black exploitation movies were created at this time to distract the masses from the anger of the Black youth. Another example of the subversion of “Black Youth Consciousness” took place in 1992 when Rodney King was violently assaulted by LAPD cops who got acquitted of all charges. This prompted the rioting all across Los Angeles after the acquittal. Again the Black youth are politically oriented, the top Hip Hop groups at that time are PRT (Poor Righteous Teachers), X-Clan, and Brand Nubian. Record labels needed a shift in the paradigm so they started marketing an influx of Gangsta music distracting the Black youth from being conscientious/reflective of themselves.

Ra Wyse


Ida B. Wells “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases”

Anthony B. Pinn “By These Hands”

Wise Intelligent:

Race Riots Time Line: