Reflections on “Making a Man of Him”

Hatt presents a powerful question at the end of his essay (“Making a Man of Him”), saying,

“Spotting racism is not enough; the question is, why is it so difficult to dismantle?”

While Hatt directed his argument towards the representation of black masculinity in the 19th Century around the turning point of the Civil War, his major points still hold value to how the black man is represented in art today. There has been a definite shift in representing African American men more accurately in terms of body specifics, instead of an idealized figure based on the white man’s body. This can be seen in comparing pieces such as John Quincy Adam Ward’s The Freedman (1863) and pieces by Kehinde Wiley (present day). Wiley’s work in particular is an interesting example of how the representation of the black man in America has changed, as he takes images of classical power that have been used in paintings usually depicting powerful white men and replacing those figures with ordinary black men, usually on a contrasting backdrop that heightens the unusual composition.

This ties back into Hatt’s question of why is racism so difficult to dismantle when it is so easily spotted because even though the representation of the black man has changed and become more realistic, it seems that unless they are put in a white context as being compared to white, male artists, they still don’t hold as much value in this age. Why is it so difficult to dismantle? I’m not sure – ingrained, implied, and structured in everyone since birth that there are superior and inferior figures, or some other factor. But I can show how racism in the contemporary art world is still prevalent, especially when it comes to the viewer and their preferred tastes.

 

Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017

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