Culture: Old and New Representations

Out of the Keywords essays that we have read so far, the essay by Richard Flynn regarding the word Culture stood out and resonated the most with me in terms of class readings we’ve done and pop culture things I’ve been seeing lately. From our class readings, I think that Berstein’s essay Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race, as well as the children’s book Summer House Boy by Shaniqua Lewis both share some representations of Flynn’s ideas of culture, however they have some very distinct differences as well. Some big takeaways from Flynn’s essay about culture is that most behaviors aren’t inherent, but they are cultivated. In the case of Bernstein’s essay, she tells the story of a young girl who learns to play with her dolls as they are scripted out to her; this leads to the young, White, girl brutally abusing her Black doll. This behavior is not only perpetuated by the time this young girls story takes place, but by the fact that the doll making industry is cultivating her behavior by making Black dolls made of more malleable materials. Of course the inspiration for this behavior was influenced by her arguably premature exposure to the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and this goes to prove the point that children’s literature can cultivate and encourage behavior in things like play. Now, the children’s book Summer Housing Boy has a similar construct in the sense that is will aid in the development in the course of a child’s life, however the message is completely the opposite of justifying the abuse of your non-White dolls. This story is about a young, Black boy who is growing up in the projects of a big city, who proceeds to shamelessly show the reader the importance and love that a community can have, and that physical location should never get in the way of where you want to go in life. In a way, this perpetuates a new culture of going against what material culture/society is scripting for a boy like him.

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