Three “chromo” prints, two with a Philadelphia copyright, appear to show African-American children dressed as adults, but look carefully
A Boy and A Girl
Large chromolithographic prints or “chromos” were popular at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. These three c. 1902 chromolithographic die cut and embossed prints depict a familiar genre scene—children playing as adults.
Here one sees a young African American couple, a boy and a girl, dressed in fancy clothes like little adults going to a ball or fancy party. Cute, right? Certainly, but notice how they are shown.
Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Racial Stereotypes
These black children are not drawn as characters. They are a rather attractive couple. There are no overt racial exaggerations in their clothing, facial features, or attitudes.
Looking at the larger scene, however, three racist stereotypes appear: the minstrel’s tambourine, the sunflower with its “face” of black seeds, and the watermelon.
These happy, normal children are here anchored to their blackness. They can’t appear on their own terms, even in a genre scene. The viewer has to relate to them as “other,” as blacks.
Elsewhere in the 19th and early 20th centuries, depictions of watermelon eating, comic fool minstrel players, and sunflowers with exaggerated facial features were used to degrade blacks as persons. The use of this imagery here (even subtly “softened”) was not lost on contemporary viewers.