The Threat of the Mulatto in The Birth of a Nation
In D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation the interactions between black and white characters represent Griffith’s view of an appropriate racial construct in America. His ideological construction is white dominance and black subordination. Characters, such as the southern Cameron’s and their house maid, who interact within these boundaries, are portrayed as decent people. Whereas characters who cross the line of racial oppression; such as Austin Stoneman, Gus and Silas Lynch, are portrayed as bad. Both Lynch and Lydia Brown, the mulatto characters, are cast in a very negative light because they confuse the ideological construct the most. The mixing of races puts blacks and whites on a common ground, which, in Griffith’s view, is a big step in the wrong direction. Griffith portrays how the relationship between blacks and whites can be good only if the color line and positions of dominance and subordination are maintained. Through the mulatto characters he illustrates the danger that blurring the color line poses to American society. Griffith’s black characters that know their place in the social hierarchy are portrayed as very nice people. An opening scene of the movie depicts the proper way for blacks to act when the Cameron’s escort their northern guests, the Stoneman’s, through their (((Institution))). The black slaves are dancing gaily and bow and tip their hats to the white visitors, even as they ignore their black entertainers. Griffith would deem this social interaction appropriate. Aside from the blacks being portrayed as slaves who will do anything to see that their white masters enjoy their time, the whites assert their 2
dominance by not acknowledging the blacks. In his essay, “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position,” Herbert Blumer asserts “race prejudice is a protective device. It functions, however short-sightedly, to preserve the integrity and the position of the dominant group” (172). For...
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