AmeriKKKa in the Age of Trump
If you’ve been keeping up with US politics, and let’s face it, it’s been hard not to, then you’ve likely seen how much racism plays a role. It got me thinking about America’s history, propagandistic art, and artists who used their art to bring awareness to racism and injustice. The blog post below is a summary of my findings.
The Trump administration’s problematic policies and (mis)understandings of the world and the people in it have steered the United States directly into new political and racial ‘crises’ that are reminiscent of political and racial ‘crises’ the United States has faced in the past. As such, artists from near and far have assumed the role of “artivists” and are using their work to critique Trump, his policies, the Trump administration, and to bring awareness to the political and racist status of the United States. This post will explore modern representations of political and racial ‘crises’ in America’s history surrounding immigration and white supremacy in comparison to contemporary representations of the current political and racial ‘crises’ of immigration and white supremacy born out of the Trump presidency. This comparison will allow for a greater understanding of how racist, political propaganda was used throughout American history and how said propaganda continues to be used by the Trump administration today.
America’s relationship with racism is one that is long and seemingly everlasting. It is no surprise then that racism has too embedded itself within American politics and the American outlook on immigration. In the early twentieth century, after being declared legal by the government, a large number of Japanese immigrants migrated to the United States seeking work and other opportunities. The mass-migration prompted an introduction and increase in anti-Japanese movements and sentiments.1 Japanese immigration was referred to as the “Japanese problem,” and the rhetoric that was released into the media suggested that Asian immigrants posed a threat to American people, the American way of life, and the American workers.2
During this time, posters, cartoons, and newspaper and magazine illustrations portrayed Asiatic immigrants as savage, filthy, and uncontrollable nuisances.
[fig. 1], is an illustration that is divided into two viewing fields. The top half of the illustration shows Uncle Sam, the personification of the United States, being violently devoured by an Irish and Asian immigrant, further drilling the narrative of immigrants taking over into the minds of the American people. The Irish immigrant on the left is seen dressed in striped tights, high boots, a dress coat and a top hat. The Asian immigrant is dressed in traditional Asian attire. He is bald save for the single braid that sticks straight up in the air. Both of the immigrant’s features have been exaggerated making them appear less-than-human. The caption above the top portion of the illustration reads: “The Great Fear of the Period; That Uncle Sam May Be Swallowed By Foreigners.”
The bottom scene of the illustration is divided into two parts. The scene on the left shows the last bit of Uncle Sam being swallowed by the Irish and Asian immigrant, and the scene on the right shows the same Asian immigrant now devouring the Irish immigrant while dressed in the Irish immigrant’s dress coat and top hat. The caption below the bottom of the illustration reads: “The Problem Solved.”
This illustration not only further perpetuates the idea that foreign immigrants are savage, but it also seems to suggest that foreign immigrants are dangerous not only to American people but to themselves; thus they cannot be controlled or taught to be civil members of society.