Week 0 – Surfaces and Strategies- Stuart Hall – Part 2

The spectacle of the ‘other’ – Analysis

Here Hall jumps into history, reading the relations of the Western world with Africa and analyzing the way race was represented in different eras. He describes as 3 moments in which the ‘West’ encountered black people:

1.         16th century contact between European trades and West African kingdom’s, that provided slaves for three centuries;

2.         European colonization of Africa in the period of high-imperialism;

3. Post-Second world war migration from the ‘third-world’ into Europe and North America.

In the middle ages, the European image of Africa was positive and mysterious. However, this image changed gradually and started to be perceived as primitive, in contrast to the ‘civilized world’. The exploration and colonization of Africa gave birth to numerous representations through commodity advertising in the 19th century.

Figure 1

Commodity racism was common in advertisements: imperial heroes and their masculine exploits in the ‘Darkest Africa’ were displayed in various items, such as match boxes, pencil boxes, biscuit tins, soap boxes etc. The Pears soap advert above (see fig.1) racializes the domestic world and domesticates the colonial world. 

This organized racism never existed before in these dimensions, and the soap has “racialized’ the domestic world. During the plantation period, abolitionists such as Frederickson (1987) explains that slavery supporters claimed that they failed to create a civilized world and that they were commonly related to savagery, cannibalism, devil worship etc. There was also the biological argument, relating their physical characteristics to their inferiority. There were also between them a fear of the inter-marriage and “degenerating” the race.

Hall describes this as a discourse structured by a set of binary oppositions such as civilization/savagery, black/white, racial purity/pollution. Also, culture meant different things for whites and blacks: for whites, culture was opposed to nature, but, for blacks, culture coincided with nature.

Green, cited in Hall, describes it as an “attempt to trace the line of determination between the biological and the social, the body became the totemic object, and it’s very visibility the evident articulation of nature and culture” (Hall, 233).

During slavery, two descriptions were common: laziness, nature for servitude and stubbornness. Also, their innate primitivism and lack of culture. It was also common the representation of daily life, as a form of “ritualized degradation”. On the other hand, some representations were idealized, while still stereotypical, such noble savages, good Christian black slaves, faithful domestic slave. The third group was tolerated, but not admired, such happy natives and entertainers. “They were reduced to their essence. Laziness, simple, fidelity, mindless ‘cooing’, trickery, childish traits belonged to blacks as a race, as a species” (Hall, 234).

These are stereotypes. Abolitionists, as a contrast, focused on the common humanity, not the difference.  This image of black people persisted the civil war, they were still represented in American movies. A segregated cinema existed for a period of time, where movies were made either for white or black audiences. Hall analyses movies and stereotypical representations, it was common that white men were more connected with the intellect, while the negro is more intuitive, connected to emotions.


“Stereotyping reduces people to few, simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as a fixed nature. Hall examines 4 aspects of it:

  1. Stereotyping and power
  2. The role of fantasy
  3. Fetishism

Richard Dyer (1977) makes a distinction between typing and stereotyping. He argues that without the use of type it would be hard to make sense of the world (Hall, 247). He argues that we are always making sense of things in terms of wider category, by the roles of a person etc. In broad terms, “Type is a simple, vivid, memorable, easily gasped and widely recognized categorization in which a few traits are foregrounded, and any change or ‘development’ are kept to a minimum (Dyer, 1977, p.28).

So, what is the difference?

  • Power

Stereotyping reduces, naturalizes and fixes ‘difference’. It also does a splitting of that is normal and acceptable, and of that is abnormal and unacceptable. It excludes everything that does not fit; it is a rigid system that fixes boundaries. This is the discourse of “them”, “the others”.  Also, stereotyping tends to happen when there are inequalities of power. Derrida argued that, when binary oppositions happen, it is a situation of violent hierarchy. Foucault calls it as a power/knowledge game. Stereotyping has a connection between representation, difference and power. It exercises symbolic violence. Power constrains, but also produce new discourses.

  • Power and fantasy

During slavery, the white master exercised his authority depriving the black male from his responsibilities in his family, therefore infantilizing him. This is in a symbolic manner a way to ‘castrate’ the black men, depriving him from his masculinity. As a response, they adopted the ‘macho’ approach, only to confirm the fantasy of the white men. Without knowledge, they become trapped in this stereotype. They become then stuck in this binary structure of the stereotype: childlike, oversexed, ‘sambo simpletons’ or savages. This is described by Hall as the ‘circularity’ of power.

  • Fetishism

The body of a woman read like a text, connected to nature and represented thought binary oppositions. The primitive was connected to the natural order, and the naturalization of difference was signified by her sexuality and the woman is reduced to her body and sexual organs. Fetishism is a fantasy where it substitutes an object for some dangerous and powerful force. It involves disavowal, meaning that a fascination or desire is bot indulged and denied at the same time.

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