Aping Blackness: Reading and Evaluating Racialized Images in Cartagena, Colombia
Why are residents of a city racialized as Black overwhelmingly in favor of representations of Blackness that caricature Afro-descendants as subservient, hypersexual and licentious, jovial, uninhibited and libertine, primitive (folklorized), and violent? This article bridges the literatures on the sociology of culture and cognition, racial signification, and frame theory to explore the various sociomental lenses and schemata that people use to perceive racial symbols and evaluate their legitimacy. It uses semi-structured and open-ended photo-elicitation interviews, primarily with residents of a largely-Afro-descendant community in Cartagena, Colombia, to systematically generate a collection of readings and evaluations of racialized imagery, resulting in an empirical example of the socio-optical construction of race within the Colombian cultural context. These readings and evaluations of external cultural primers such as photographs of racialized performance and ritual reveal (1) how a Colombian Atlantic Coastal “optical community” connects the signifiers and signifieds of Blackness; (2) that racial frames evoke three primary schemas (personal, spatiotemporal, and explicitly ideological), which interpreters use to decode and evaluate images; (3) that interpreters read the racial frames transmitted by cultural producers (e.g., performance artists and festival goers) via the visual language of racialized imagery as collectively credible and/or personally salient, and that this visual resonance is how the racialized imagery gain legitimacy and; (4) that personal experience, cultural knowledge, and social location account for variations in whether people consider racialized imagery credible and salient and, as such, legitimate forms of recognition.