Shoulders of the Ancestors

January 2014

The reason I appear to be standing so tall is because my feet are firmly planted on the shoulders of my ancestors

Is "THUG" Now the New "N-Word"?

A Time For Justice


Through primary source images and with text students will learn about President Lincoln's initial reluctance to recruit African Americans, the contributions of runaway slaves, and how African Americans contributed to the Union's victory over the Confederacy.


SHOULDERS OF THE ANCESTORS is a division of AFRICAN AMERICAN POSTERS & PRESENTATIONS (AAPP) . AAPP provides classroom tested educational posters and learning charts that utilize the new scholarship in African and African American history and culture. The graphics on our learning charts are selected to engage students. Visit us today at www.aahistoryposters.com.

Recently both the Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman and President Obama provided us with another opportunity to have that needed national conversation on race. Their statements are being viewed as villainous to some and refreshing to others.


President Obama’s statements in the New Yorker Magazine around the Affordable Care Act’s impact on both poor African Americans and poor whites is mostly inside the beltway talk.  A good analysis of the Obama statements was written by Greg Sargent in his Plumline column.


Outside the beltway and across the nation the buzz is about the words uttered by Seattle Seahawks player Richard Sherman.

Promotional poster for the 1955 film Mau-Mau, Richard Sherman, Vogue magazine cover some critics felt was similar to historic posters for the film King Kong.

Websites and Links on Sherman & Racial Imaging in America

Ryan Wilson’s column written for CBSSPORTS.COM provides a good analysis of the Sherman debate because it gives us Sherman in his own words.


"The reason it [thug] bothers me is because it seems like it's an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word now," he said. "It's like everybody else said the N-word and then they say 'thug' and that's fine"... "Can a guy on a football field just talking to people [be a thug?] ... There was a hockey game where they didn't even play hockey! They just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and said, 'Ah, man, I'm the thug? What's going on here?'".




In A TIME FOR JUSTICE, four-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim captured the spirit of the civil rights movement through historical footage and the voices of those who participated in the struggle.


Teachers can order this kit for free.


The Kit includes:

38-minute film with closed-captioning on DVD

Teacher’s Guide with five lesson plans on CD

Classroom Poster, “Civil Rights Movement Timeline,”

Narrated by Julian Bond and featuring John Lewis, the 38-minute film allows today’s generation of students to witness firsthand the movement’s most dramatic moments—the bus boycott in Montgomery, the school crisis in Little Rock, the violence in Birmingham and the triumphant 1965 march for voting rights.

By stating that the word “thug” has become a convenient substitute for the "N" word Sherman has stepped in the middle of a historic scholarly debate on race and imagery. To me the fact that Sherman graduated with a major in communications from Stanford University provided him with sufficient scholarly credentials to make statements about symbolic power of words.


Now that the barrage of visceral comments in response to Sherman’s statements are dissipating we need to pause for the “teachable moment”, the opportunity to diagnose the racial wounds festering on our American social body. In addition to the links above, listed below are a few places to start an analysis of racial stereotyping in the United States.

WIKIPEDIA does a decent job covering the history of African American stereotypes. The article covers both historic and modern stereotypes of African Americans both male and females. Featured topics include the definitions of the Sambo, the Mammy, the Mandingo Negro, the Sapphire and the Jezebel. Other stereotypes covered in the Wiki article are African Americans as deviants, radicals, drug lords, crack victims, and welfare queens.



A film I use each year in my African American History class is Ethnic Notions, Marlon Riggs' Emmy-winning documentary that takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing for the first time the deep-rooted stereotypes which have fueled anti-black prejudice. Through these images we can begin to understand the evolution of racial consciousness in America. Distributed by California Newsreel, the link includes a 5 minute clip from the documentary.



If race is a construct created by humans than “whiteness” is also a human invention. The WISE center’s website (Working to Improve Schools and Education) at Ithaca College contains several links to websites that feature articles on the history and impact of the belief in “whiteness”.

Among the pundits weighing in on the politics of 'thug' as the new N-word was Melissa Harris-Perry in her Sunday (January 26, 2014) show. Harris-Perry devoted a ten minute segment (see clip below) to the social network and media frenzy over Richard Sherman’s words.


Other useful sites on the Sherman controversy were published by ALLVOICES.COM and the Charles Barkley interview on CNN.


RACE - The Power of an Illusion


California Newsreel's RACE - the Power of an Illusion does the best job presenting how race has no basis in biology, but is clearly a social construct, an invention created by people. The division of the world's peoples into distinct groups - "red," "black," "white" or "yellow" peoples - has become so deeply imbedded in our psyches, so widely accepted, many would promptly dismiss as crazy any suggestion of its falsity. This film series should be required viewing for every high school student and every teacher in the United States. The topics presented in the three-part series is appropriate for high school Biology, American History, and Sociology classes. .Distributed by California Newsreel, the link includes a 5 minute clip from the documentary.



Author and university professor Darron Smith's  website contains several challenging articles on the imaging of African Americans. In a Huffington Post article Dr. Smith stated that representations of black males in mass media are all too often the black sidekick of a white protagonist, for example, the token black person, the comedic relief, the athlete, the over-sexed ladies' man, the absentee father or, most damaging, the violent black man as drug-dealing criminal and gangster thug.


This educational kit contains four full color posters and a CD with a Powerpoint presentation.  Students will learn why slaves, ran away, where they ran to, systems to capture runaways, tales of legendary escapes, and the Underground Railroad.