Tuesday, May 4, 2010

#104. Lawn Jockeys


Every home in America has some distinguishing artifact in the yard that showcases the personality of the occupant. Some people have garden gnomes hidden away in the brush of their manicured front lawns; many have magnificent floral arrangements; others water fountains for birds to enjoy; and few have decorate doormats inviting guests into their home with a pithy comment.

The garish pink flamingo might litter the lawn of your prole neighbor, driving down property value but providing enjoyment for the yokel displaying such an idiotic creation.

Still, precious few dare exhibit that antiquated item from the past that conjures apocryphal tales of daring exploits provided by Black people at times of great historic distress: the Lawn Jockey.

Yes, a common sight to behold in Pre-Obama America, the lawn jockey has fallen out of favor recently despite its historical importance as a symbol of Black people and their vital contributions to the United States of America. Speculations has long centered on the origins of this miniature homage to Black people, with one hypothesis placing its birth at the dawn of this nations birth, while others place the beginnings of the forerunner to the lawn jockey as a statue denoting proper and safe passage on the underground railroad:

The African-American lawn jockeys often had exaggerated features, such as big eyes with the whites painted in, large red lips, large, flat nose and curly hair. These pieces were typically painted in gaudy colors for the uniform, with the flesh of the statue a gloss black. These statues are widely considered offensive and racially insensitive and many remaining samples have now been repainted using pink paint for the skin while the original sculpture's exaggerated features remain.

However, some accounts of the figure's origin cause some to see the statue as representing a hero of African American history and culture. According to the River Road African American Museum the figure originated in commemoration of heroic dedication to duty: "It is said that the 'lawn jockey' actually has its roots in the tale of one Jocko Graves, an African-American youth who served with General George Washington at the time that he crossed the Delaware to carry out his surprise attack on British forces at Trenton, NJ. The General thought him too young to take along on such a dangerous attack, so left him on the Pennsylvania side to tend to the horses and to keep a light on the bank for their return. So the story goes, the boy, faithful to his post and his orders, froze to death on the river bank during the night, the lantern still in his hand. The General was so much moved by the boy's devotion to his duty that he had a statue sculpted and cast of him, holding the lantern, and had it installed at his Mount Vernon estate. He called the sculpture 'The Faithful Groomsman'." The most frequently-cited source for the story is Kenneth W. Goings in "Mammy and Uncle Mose" (Indiana University Press), though he regards it as apocryphal. The story was told as well in a 32 page children's book by Earl Kroger Sr., "Jocko: A Legend of the American Revolution." Moreover, there is a 13-page typescript titled "A Horse for the General: The Story of Jocko Graves" by Thomas William Halligan in the archives of the Alaska Pacific University/ University of Alaska-Anchorage consortium library [1]

Charles Blockson, curator of the Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia, claims that the figures were used in the days of the Underground Railroad to guide escaping slaves to freedom: "Green ribbons were tied to the arms of the statue to indicate safety; red ribbons meant to keep going ... People who don’t know the history of the jockey have feelings of humiliation and anger when they see the statue..." [2] Blockson has installed an example of the statue at the entrance to the University's Sullivan Hall.

Neither the Revolutionary War nor the Civil War legends are corroborated by historical records. Mount Vernon's librarian Ellen McCallister Clark wrote in a letter to Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library: "No record of anybody by the name of Jocko Graves, nor any account of somebody freezing to death holding Washington's horses, exists in the extensive historical record of the time." Nor do any of the many historical inventories and descriptions of Washington's estate mention any such statue. Moreover, stories about the Underground Railroad using lawn jockeys as signals are rendered suspect by the fact that red and green as signal colors meaning "stop" and "go" (or "danger" and "safe") were standardized by railway signals during the World War I era.
Like the exaggerated English Butler (or man's man) that is proudly displayed in the parlors of upper-class Americans homes, the lawn jockey is an item that once found prominence in the gardens and front yards of the domiciles of white people in the whitopia that once was America. Now, this relic of a bygone era with suspect lineage (all of the above stories lack sufficient proof to justify their selection as the true derivation of the 'lawn jockey' statue) is rarely seen at all.

Curiously, no one postulates the theory that 'lawn jockeys' were created to celebrate the contributions of Black jockeys in the sport of equine racing, as it is a well-known fact that Black people once excelled in the racing of horses until racist horse owners decided midget-white people guiding their prized horses would be a more palatable sporting decision:

Owners won large enough purses to reward their jockeys with high wages, much as players who earn stratospheric salaries from owners who realize astronomical revenue from gate receipts, memorabilia, and broadcast contracts. And it produced the first black sports superstars.

From 1823 until the start of the Civil War, horse racing was the most popular sport in America with black jockeys reaping bigger purses for their owners. Earnings from racing provided jockeys lifestyle options other blacks, free or slave, didn’t enjoy. They were allowed to travel off the plantation, sometimes without a white escort. They were treated better than the average black person.

A slave jockey could earn enough money to purchase his and his family’s freedom. He could even earn enough money to purchase his own slaves. Of course, this was not always the case. Many times, money may have bought a certain amount of independence.

The Civil War temporarily disrupted horse racing when the horses were needed for war efforts. During Reconstruction, African American jockeys experienced some of their most notable achievements, particularly in the Kentucky Derby. The first winner of the Kentucky Derby was an African American, Oliver Lewis. In fact, there were 13 African American jockeys in that first race, five of whom also had black trainers. Fifteen of the first twenty-eight Kentucky Derby winners were African American. The youngest person to win the Derby was a 15-year old African American named Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton. Isaac Murphy was perhaps the most successful of these Black jockeys at this time, winning the Derby three times – a record which stood for close to forty years. Arguably, Murphy is the greatest jockey of all time, as his 44 percent winning rate remains the highest in history. Willie Simms is the only African American to have won all of the Triple Crown races.

Eventually, segregated competition took over interracial sporting competition for close to sixty years beginning in 1890. In his book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, author William Rhoden attributes this demise to the “Jockey Syndrome.” Rhoden describes the Jockey Syndrome as a changing of the rules of the game when competition begins to gain ground. It usually involves a series of maneuvers to facilitate racist outcomes, including the taking away of previously gained rights and the diluting of access through coercive power and force, a phenomenon that was common outside of sports as well, of course. Black Americans would see that clearly when the Civil Rights Act they celebrated in 1875 was almost completely overturned by the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1890. [Thus] the Jockey Syndrome has been the primary mechanism in American sports for tilting the ostensible level playing field of sport away from equal opportunity and toward white supremacy.

Horse racing once was dominated by Black jockeys, thus the 'lawn jockey' is a symbol of deference to this forgotten period of Black dominance in sport, a reminder that Black people are not capable of jokes at their expense and instead must constantly be provided with positive reinforcement.

That might not be it actually. The 'lawn jockey' might have sinister roots in the inherently racist genes of white people who secretly yearn for the days of segregation or even the physical enslavement of an entire people:

At the risk of being polemic, are the families that have black-faced lawn jockeys honoring the slaves who fled for their lives or the families that aided them? I doubt it. The contemporary families who own and display lawn jockeys have most likely not heard of Jocko Graves or the stories about lawn jockeys and the Underground Railroad.

Let us be honest, some people find lawn jockeys nostalgic, reminiscent of the "good old days" of Jim Crow segregation. The black-faced servant with the stooped back is a reminder of the decades when Blacks occupied the bottom rung on America's racial hierarchy -- a time when Blacks "knew their place." After World War II, White residents of new housing developments, "perhaps to give themselves more of a sense of being a member of the privileged master class, began placing 'Jocko' on their lawns in great numbers," wrote Kenneth W. Goings in his book Mammy and Uncle Mose. I can tell you that more than a half-century later lawn jockeys are still seen by African Americans as markers of "White space," objects that send this message to Blacks: "You are not welcome here."

The authenticity and true origins of the lawn jockey might remain a curious enigma - like the question of who finds Tracey Morgan funny? - but one thing is for sure: Stuff Black People Don't Like will include lawn jockeys, for no positivity can come from a minute Black figure, harboring over-exaggerated features that elicit laughter from those who view this bastardized creation.

Disingenuous white liberals might shriek in horror at the sight of such a boorish figurine, but Black people know that deep down a hearty laughter is ready to bellow out once they leave the room and ear shot of this person, for they recall what former President Bill Clinton said of Mein Obama before his election:
"A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee," the former president told the liberal lion from Massachusetts, according to the gossipy new campaign book, "Game Change."






18 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://field-negro.blogspot.com/2009/07/lawn-jockey-alert.html

Too funny! Great post. Do more posts of this nature. Sometimes, people want substance and other times just a laugh.

You provided a great laugh this time. More posts like this help drown out the bad news that is constantly paraded through the media.

Thanks for all the work you do!

Anonymous said...

SBPDL,

Great post! I'm glad you're moving over to more humorous topics, because we all can use a little laughter. Anything to take our minds off of how Barry the half breed is continuing the crap job started by G.W.Bush.

I have to say once again "my people"have me confused and a bit embarrassed. How in the hell can you be "offended" by Lawn Jockeys, when the only two known sources of origin could be perceived as a possible source of pride?

Here is a related story that you may find interesting and ironic. Growing up I had a neighbor that had a Lawn Jockey in her front yard for as long as I can remember.She was black, the neighborhood was predominately black, and no one ever complained. I don't believe anyone even noticed or cared. Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton never came by.

Maybe they were too busy being the resident "angry" black dude for CNN or Fox news.

On a unrelated topic. I was looking at your blog list and an a funny story caught my I eye.

"FBI arrests police officer for smoking crack on the job"

Please post more stories like that one.

I'm sorry to report the cop was a white chick. I would be dishonest if I said That I wasn't a tad bit relieved upon receiving that news. I guess this is vindication for that asshole black cop pulling his gun during a snowball fight DC.

-Black guy

Anonymous said...

SBPDL,

"The authenticity and true origins of the lawn jockey might remain a curious enigma - like the question of who finds Tracey Morgan funny? - but one thing is for sure: Stuff Black People Don't Like will include lawn jockeys, for no positivity can come from a minute Black figure, harboring over-exaggerated features that elicit laughter from those who view this bastardized creation."

The only thing I would like to address is that ass clown Tracey Morgan. I have no idea who finds this douche funny. He is so unfunny that he is borderline offensive, and that's coming from possibly one of the most anti PC black dude in America.

I actually like the show 30 rock. Tracey Morgan is unnecessary to overall plot of the show. He is an annoying distraction to what is otherwise excellent comedic writing.

He was also one of the worst cast members on SNL. Second only to Adam Sandler.

-Black guy

Hirsch said...

My compliments on the clarity of your recent posts.

America, particularly suburban America, is replete with a new form of lawn jockey, one that is quite mobile, rather than stationary. Some refer to him as "Wigger." He spends his days emulating black men who have no use for him, except the sixteen dollars our poor deluded white friend drops in disposable income on rap "music" every week.

Well, there is one other use they have for such white lawn jockeys. Once the white lawn jockey begins to emulate the rapper, he will lose the respect of his girlfriend, who will fall right into the lap of some Cromagnon 50 Cent look alike, who will have achieved that most coveted holy of holiest....White Wimmenz!!!!

Anonymous said...

I miss Lawn Jockeys!

NC17 said...

i'm still laughing. hillarious

Steve said...

Heh nothing I can add to this other than a hearty LOL. Whats the ring in the figures hand for?

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...

Steve:

A horse.

Steve said...

To SBPDL;
ahhh of course so it is actually a "Jockey". Forgive my ignorance on this, Ive never actually seen one up close or paid much attention to them. I always figured they held a lantern or something at the end of a driveway.

Desiree said...

@NC17:

You should keep tabs on how many of SBPDL's wonderful readers click through to your blogger profile because of that picture; she's gorgeous. Three words: strengthen your levees!!

No matter what Whitey says, he's still looking...and lusting...SMH.
------
@Hirsch:

"Once the white lawn jockey begins to emulate the rapper, he will lose the respect of his girlfriend, who will fall right into the lap of some Cromagnon 50 Cent look alike, who will have achieved that most coveted holy of holiest....White Wimmenz!!!!"

Is that a fantasy of Whitey's, to have black men going nuts out of their minds for 'white wimmenz'? Or has Whitey just put his female counterpart up as a status symbol for his power, never seeing her as equal but merely a 'thing'? I think Whitey needs to get it together. Ever heard of 'Stick It To The Man'? Think of it literally; just like someone destroying the 'symbol' of their oppressor's power (think of how the Iraqis destroyed the 'statue' of Saddam), you are setting your women up to be sexually destroyed (since that is the only medium men function in with regards to women). Not because black men are rapists; no, because MEN IN GENERAL think the penis is an extension of power. In sum, using whatever 'power' they have (penis) to destroy the symbol of Whitey (the white woman). Think about it: it's misogyny on the white man's part; he's not looking out for his woman, not that that surprises me...

Get your mindset right, Hirsch. That is *not* cool...

Jealous of 50 Cent because he can bag more white chicks than most white men? Awww, boy boo! 50 is fly!
------
@Black Guy:

Don't you *think* the reason no one started tripping over a black lawn jockey in a black neighborhood was because there was no element of racial stereotyping? No caricature of a black in servent's status? I mean, that's how white people think; we're just caricatures to be paraded around or mocked. I'd be taken aback if I saw that in a white person's yard...

CWN said...

What would be cool, is to have a jockey with a confederate flag painted on his clothing.

Anonymous said...

"the reason no one started tripping over a black lawn jockey in a black neighborhood was because there was no element of racial stereotyping?"

It's because there's no grounds to Blame-Whitey, followed by screams of RACISM.

Without these activities, blacks find themselves with nothing to do.

Anonymous said...

"I think Whitey needs to get it together."

Yes, because of the high crime rate, and high dropout rate, and high illegitimacy rate, high unemployment rate...

Oh, wait...

Hirsch said...

@ Desiree


Your theory of a power struggle played out through sexual politics vis-à-vis black men and white women, please tell me you don’t think it originated with you? It’s been dissected many times before, and better, by more articulate writers (Cornell West comes to mind). So if it hurts your feelings for me to rebuke your patronizing theory, I’ll just pretend this is the first time I ever heard it, and respond with a “Really? I never thought about it like that, Desiree!” Lol. Way to drop knowledge on this misogynist.

I also love the double standard and hypocritical irony that you didn't even see as you typed it. I won't retype your vomit verbatim, but essentially I'm a chauvinist male objectifying my women, while "Fiddy" is cool.

Let's view a few lyrics from his inglorious treatise on feminism, shall we?


"I ain't that nigga trying to holla cause I want some head
I'm that nigga trying to holla cause I want some bread
I could care less how she perform when she in the bed
Bitch hit that track, catch a date, and come and pay the kid
Look baby this is simple, you can't see
You fucking with me, you fucking with a P-I-M-P"


One day, hopefully, I can hold women to the same standard as "Fiddy" and redeem myself in your eyes.

Hirsch said...

@ Desiree


Your theory of a power struggle played out through sexual politics vis-à-vis black men and white women, please tell me you don’t think it originated with you? It’s been dissected many times before, and better, by more articulate writers (Cornell West comes to mind). So if it hurts your feelings to respond to your patronizing theory, I’ll just pretend this is the first time I ever heard it, and respond with a “Really, I never thought about it like that, Desiree!” Lol. Way to drop knowledge on this misogynist.

I also love the double standard and hypocritical irony that you didn't even see as you typed it. I won't retype your vomit verbatim, but essentially I'm a chauvinist male objectifying my women, while "Fiddy" is cool.

Let's view a few lyrics from his inglorious treatise on feminism, shall we?

I ain't that nigga trying to holla cause I want some head
I'm that nigga trying to holla cause I want some bread
I could care less how she perform when she in the bed
Bitch hit that track, catch a date, and come and pay the kid
Look baby this is simple, you can't see
You fucking with me, you fucking with a P-I-M-P





One day, hopefully, I can hold women to the same standard as "Fiddy" and redeem myself in your eyes.

PS. The "white wimminz" who are with 50 are with him for the same reason they are with 90 year-old white oil Tycoons. Wanna take a guess as to why? I'm pretty sure the answer's not street cred.

Anonymous said...

Hey Desiree, how come we are never graced with your comments in articles about the black situation in modern cities. You only seem to respond to posts regarding black stereotypes and stereotypical images. Granted you are able to defend your black brethren very well in the abstract but when it comes to real world examples of your race's glaring inferiority you are completely silent.

Anonymous said...

CWN,

"What would be cool, is to have a jockey with a confederate flag painted on his clothing."

Sounds like you have a "fun" weekend planned.

-Black guy

CWN said...

Black guy,

Call it an art project.