Propaganda, especially when presented by “respected” figures such as scholars and scientists, can effectively work against any gains that would have been made by recently emancipated groups. Individuals like the Cuban criminologist Fernando Ortiz attempted to block or even reverse the acquisition of rights for Afro-Cubans by spreading fear. Ortiz’s publications depicted Afro-Cubans and dangerous and incapable of being absorbed into Cuban society as free people. Coming from his place of prestige as a scholar, writer, and public official, he was able to sew the seeds of fear and doubt widely enough in the collective Cuban mindset, that he did not need to make an attempt to restrict Afro-Cuban’s rights in any way–his propaganda created enough distrust in the Cuban population that the resistance to Afro-Cuban rights was widespread. As Dawson points out, when Afro-Cubans were in a position to discuss their rights, their appeals only acted to accentuate their difference, to “highlight their blackness, and foment further white hysteria over the black threat.” Ortiz’s propaganda had done its work.
Similarly, European scientists such as Francis Galton worked to further entrench racist sentiments by presenting “scientific” evidence that certain races were superior. Again, this claim is advanced by a trusted individual and the effects of this propaganda presented as science are impossible to overcome. Rights-seeking groups are reduced to, at best, inferior, and at worst, dangerous. Though marginalized groups have made some progress since emancipation and a global shift toward basic human rights, propaganda is ubiquitous, and the voices of the marginalized remain whispers next to the powerful propaganda of privileged white men.
After reading the works on women’s rights, I am left wondering if the same attempts had been made to scientifically reduce women to being intellectually inferior, or was the propaganda at the time mostly religious and aesthetic in tone?
5 Responses to Week 6 – Citizenships and Rights
Very nice blog post! I like how you think of Ortiz and Galton’s racist works as propaganda. I had not thought of it that way, although it clearly is a type of propaganda. Interesting question at the end as well. I don’t have an answer, but I would speculate that both of your points are true. I would guess that women were portrayed as inferior, as they truly were thought to be so.
I also found your final question to be quite interesting. One of the ways in which (pseudo-)science was used to justify racism was phrenology, effectively the study of skull shapes to determine one’s cognitive abilities. Although I don’t know for certain, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was used to intellectually reduce women as well.
Nice post! I like how you said “the voices of the marginalized remain whispers next to the powerful propaganda of privileged white men.” It still kind of is that way, isn’t it? Especially when you think about media and how most (some worse than others) news stations portray protests like Black Lives Matter and how Fox News can still manage to twist it into dangerous protests that undermine the importance of police lives and the “All Lives Matter” counter-movement.
I love your comments about science-based racial differences. I always forget that people legitimately believe in those awful rumours enough to actually let them guide their own prejudice. It reminds me of something my social studies teacher told me in grade 11, that during the holocaust people would lie about if they were jewish or not and they started measuring noses and heads to determine if they `were` a jew or not. I just always wonder how it is that people fall for these horrible prejudiced lies time and time again.
I think your comments bring up an interesting side of history that has often been forgotten about or looked over. The scientific arguments against racial minorities at the turn of the twentieth century into the middle of the twentieth century often brought fuel to the fire of racist groups and nativist organizations. You are correct that Ortiz’s status as an intellectual helped mask the demeaning comments and works he did to undermine Afro-Cuban culture and identity. It is interesting how throughout history, the presence of education and power can mask the ill intentions at hand of these individuals.