Faith Ringgold could have used one of a number of words used to describe African-Americans at different points in history. She could have chosen negro or negra, black, or colored. But she chose to use what has been considered the most derogatory term for African-Americans; in her painting of the flag, the stripes spell out nigger. I believe Ringgold chose this word for a couple different reasons. First, it was used to draw people’s attention. It was used to bring in whites and blacks alike and then, once she had them there, to ensure people looking got the right message. This is a word meant to make one feel, whether the emotion felt be shame, anger, inferiority, hate, power, or righteousness. In the video clip a speaker says “words became bullets” for the African-Americans in a time when all and any type of power belonged to whites. Nigger was Faith Ringgold’s bullet.
I think there are two different overall meanings that can be taken from Ringgold’s painting. First, that America is against the black consciousness. The second is that America needs to kill the concept of the word nigger. This painting is a statement that looks both to the past and the future, conveys history and calls for action now. By incorporating the words into the design of the flag as Ringgold does, she conveys how America is wrapped up in the issue of black oppression and black rights. Historically, America as a united force was against black consciousness. Slavery helped to build our economy. To accept the inhumanness of slavery, people had to convince themselves that blacks were lesser human beings. This was a great conditioning that took place, over a large span of time. The open acknowledgment of this conditioning is what Ringgold’s painting is firing out with the bullet word nigger. The demand for America to take notice and recondition itself is what Ringgold is firing out with the bullet word nigger. America needs to kill the concept of the word to escape the oppression of the word.
Out of the black rights movement, grew the brown rights movement. As Mexican-Americans watched and helped blacks work for social equality, they began to take a close look at their own social standing. Mexican-Americans adopted the word Chicano to symbolize their cultural identity. The reading introduces some of the goals and ideas of the Chicano Movement, such as that Chicanos have a claim to land in the southwestern U.S. through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Unionization for Chicano farm laborers was sought and obtained through activisim by farm workers know as La Causa. They used artwork and imagery, particularly a bird design created by Cesar Chavez in 1962 called the huelga eagle. The movement addressed urban problems, such as healthcare, registering voters, and quality education for Chicano children. An organization called the Brown Berets was created in 1967 that functioned in a similar manner to the Black Panthers. Chicanos also participated in the anti-war movement, as disproportionate numbers of Mexican-Americans were drafted into the Vietnam War. Chicano artists often used a technique called appropriation in their work. Appropriation involves taking a symbol or image originally meant for one purpose and applying it to a different purpose.
The Fritos Bandito character in Brownies of the Southwest is an example of appropriation. Mel Casas’ painting relates many ideas from the Chicano Movement, but the Fritos Bandito riding atop the skeleton may be the strongest. The skeleton is often used in cultural art relating to the Day of the Dead. During the movement, the skeleton was a symbol for farm workers exposed to dangerous chemicals. To put the stereotypical Frito Bandito atop the skeleton implies that America has both made a mockery of Chicano heritage and does not take the plight of the Chicano farm worker seriously.
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