Date of Award

Summer 5-2017

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Lisa Gabbert

Second Advisor

Christine Cooper-Rompato

Third Advisor

Lynne McNeill

Abstract

Folk ideas regarding African-Americans in nineteenth century America fueled racially charged stereotypes that served to promote segregation into the 1960s. Despite the belief of many Americans that the Civil Rights movement has ushered in an era of “postracism,” artifacts of digital culture prove that racism is still prevalent in American culture. Members of online social groups spread rumors and memes of popular African-American figures to propagate old racist stereotypes and spread conspiracy rumors among younger audiences.

Folklorists Bill Ellis, Gary Fine, Véronique Campion-Vincente, and Patricia Turner provided foundational scholarship on rumors, conspiracy theories, and how they divide ethnic groups in wider American culture. This paper applies their works to an analysis of several memes and YouTube videos regarding Kanye West, an African-American rapper. It also considers how stereotypes of African-Americans as discussed in Marlon Riggs’ documentary Ethnic Notions still hold influence over current American attitudes towards African-Americans in the broader culture.

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