When I first began reading the Du Bois article “Criteria of Negro Art” I wondered what connections I could make with The Brownie’s Book. Since Prof. Wells had told us that it was intended for children, I guess I picture it as an old time Highlights, but I was considerably struck by the letter in the ‘grownup’s corner.’ While I knew that text book history did not consider the contributions of African Americans until rather recently, I hadn’t thought of what it might feel like to be a child growing up with out role models or a mother unable to tell her child about the people the text books forgot. It was then I thought about what Du Bois said about propaganda.
“Thus all art is propaganda and ever must be…I stand in utter shamelessness and say whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy.”
Du Bois argued that there was no positive example of the lives of African Americans, even in art or literature, white publishers, directors, or managers only supported arts which portray African Americans as seedy, immoral or laughable and never as “lovable or inspired” as many works about white characters did.
With this in mind, I turned a critical eye to the stories of The Brownie’s Book, searching for the ways in which positive ‘propaganda’ were used. Probably my favorite example of which was the story of Dolly, the little girl who wanted golden curls, and was thus turned into a white girls because “as you know golden curls belong to people with pinky white skin and blue eyes (42.) So much of the other texts we’ve read have dealt with passing or interracial relationships, it was interesting to read a short story which pointed out that children were are of this color scale too and thus, might wish for features which seem to them more ‘white’ or fair. However, instead of making Dolly happy with her new appearance, she learned that she could not be with her family if she was a white child, and that, essentially, although she had only changed on the outside, she had lost a part of who she was.
I also found the article on Harriet Tubman very interesting (94-96.) Clearly, one of the functions of The Brownie’s Book was to provide a history left and out in schools, and to highlight the contributions made by Tubman that affected not just African Americans, but the United States. Additionally, articles like these were probably beneficial to adults as well, who like the mother in the grown-up’s corner, acknowledged neither her nor her husband knew much about African American history.
Lastly, I tried to analyze the stories of Br’er Rabbit, but really wasn’t sure what they meant. Maybe I am looking to deeply into a children’s story, but all the stories had a rather obvious message positive message for black children. However, when I read “Br’er Rabbit Wins the Reward’ I couldn’t help but think that wolf, fox, and rabbit were sharecroppers. Expected to do manual labor no one else would, for only the promise of something once it’s completed. In the end, the rabbit seems to trick the King, not complaining, but instead talking while he worked, and completing the task for the reward. Is the author saying children and other African Americans should continue to work hard and will one day receive recognition? Is it a comment on the labor or jobs open to the lower class, or does it have something to do with the fact that the rabbit essentially tricked the King?