Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany
Harvard University Press 2011
New Books in ArtNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 17, 2011 Marshall Poe
If you’re a native-born American, you’re probably familiar with Aunt Jemima (pancake syrup), Uncle Ben (precooked rice), and Rastus (oatmeal)–commercial icons all. They were co-oped in whole or part from stock characters in American minstrel shows, largely because they suggested to white consumers a comforting though bygone hospitality. Aunt Jemima said “You might not have a loving mammy to do your home cookin’, but you can eat as if you did.”
I grew up with Aunt Jemima and loved her syrup dearly, so I knew this. But I did not know that a similar tradition of racist commercial icons existed in Imperial Germany. I do now, thanks to David Ciarlo‘s insightful Advertising Empire: Race and Visual Culture in Imperial Germany (Harvard UP, 2011). The Germans had been using images such as the “tobacco moor” to stamp their exotic trade goods since the eighteenth century. But it was only in the 1890s that they began to use the “moor” in mass advertising per se. It was only then, too, that they began to carve out an empire full of “moors” in southwest Africa. David skillfully connects the two phenomenon, showing that the latter tangibly altered the character of the former. The image of Africans in ads went from one that emphasized the exotic to one that stressed the exotic under German domination. Depictions that were almost entirely fanciful became much more concrete. Africans came to represent racial Untermenchen in the service of their German overlords. It was an appealing picture, and one the Germans would–unfortunately–not soon forget.