“[Colonialism] dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets into the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal.” – Aime Cesaire
It is kinda painful to watch Josephine do her dance in this short excerpt from ZouZou but if you think about the fact that she was the first Black international superstar, then you kinda see why this is important.
In the 1920’s she left the US to go to Paris to open a show there. She was became a star.
In 1963, during the March on Washington (the one where Martin Luther King gave his famous, “I have a Dream Speech), Baker was the only woman speaker and introduced the Negro Women’s Civil Rights Movement.
She fought against racism and was so valiant that when Martin Luther King was assassinated, Coretta King asked her to take the place of her husband and lead the Civil Rights Movement. She declined.
Josephine Baker has been emulated by pop idols like, yes Beyonce and her famous banana skirt is representative of the power of taking back what was the othering of Colored and Black people.
Josephine made history with her banana skirt and erotic dance in Le Danse Sauvage. Hers was a phallic representation of European fantasies for what they considered primitive and savage:
This fantasy for the primitive and savage is what led to the humiliating existence of Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman “Venus Hottentot,” who in 1810 was on display in London. Sarah a South African woman was made a marvel because of her big butt and “odd” genitalia. While alive she was put on display before crowds in a small loincloth and when she died, her vagina was put into a jar and made the topic of scientific discussion about the African race. She would remain on display for 160 years.
She was one of many Africans (sometimes whole villages) taken to Europe to be put on display as examples of primitive Africa. This with little signs that said ” Please do not feed the natives.”
Baartman’s body was only laid to rest in South Africa upon Mandela’s request in 2002. Upto 1974 in France, her remains were open for public display.