For more than two hundred years the Haitian religion commonly referred to as voodoo has continued to intrigue, excite, and scare Americans. In a recent Hollywood blockbuster, The Skeleton Key starring Kate Hudson, a small New Orleans family is terrorized by a menacing duo of voodoo practitioners. In fact, U.S popular culture has long portrayed voodoo as black magic African witchcraft primarily concerned with casting spells, and voodoo adherents have been accused of snake worship, cannibalism, and child sacrifice since the late 18th century . However, it is surprising that many Americans would have this belief when the majority of the scientific literature on the subject describes voodoo as a positive force in the lives of its mainly African-American adherents. As a result of this significant discrepancy of opinion, it becomes necessary to identify both who benefits from this negative portrayal of voodoo and what those specific benefits are. As a possible solution to these questions, this paper argues that claims-makers, including the media and public officials, have continuously misrepresented the voodoo religion due to a desire to alienate and vilify African Americans in the regions surrounding New Orleans.
[...] Yet, combining ideological suspicion for putatively “non-Christian” groups on the one hand with racial prejudice for nonwhite purveyors of new religions on the other represents a redoubled effort to impose a deviant label upon such groups. By exercising their power over public opinion by portraying voodoo as a religion that is evil, claims-makers are labeling practitioners of voodoo as deviants. By doing so, the claims-makers are also passing value judgments through the comparison of voodoo to conventional Christianity, and proclaiming the superiority of the latter of the former. In this way the claims-makers, in the form of the media and public officials, are creating an environment where the predominantly African American practitioners are becoming victims of racial prejudice and discrimination. [...]
[...] Joseph Murphy, in his study titled “Black religion and black magic: Prejudice and projection in images of African- derived religion,” identifies the ways in which the negative portrayal of voodoo as “black magic” has historically used to describe cultural and racial differences between the dominant White majority and the African American minority: “Images of “black magic,” for both their creators and their audiences, show to be menacingly alien to and reinforce the idea that magic can be contrasted to religion” Thus, by establishing the idea that voodoo is a form of “black magic,” claims-makers have historically been able to proclaim the inferiority of voodoo, and by association its practitioners, as well as announce the superiority of themselves and their own religion. [...]
[...] Eds. James T. Richardson, Joel Best and David G. Bromley. New York: Aldine de Gruyter Murphy, Joseph. “Black religion and black magic: Prejudice and projection in images of African-derived religion” Religion Vol (1990), pp. 323-37 Newell, William. “Myths of Voodoo Worship and Child [...]
[...] The more we identify the enemy as the devil the more we become the savior. Thus, by depicting voodoo as an evil religion that incorporates the use of blood and severed tongues, and by associating Noriega to that religion, the military was able to garner public support for the war. The second, and more covert, agenda behind associating Noriega with voodoo was that the association was beneficial to the Bush administration and improved George Bush's public image. Despite the apparent success of the invasion, doubts began to grow concerning the possibility of successfully convicting Noriega. [...]
[...] An explanation for this negative portrayal of voodoo by public officials can be found in John Bartkowski's study “Claims-Making and Typifications of voodoo as a Deviant Religion: Hex, Lies, and Videotape”: Claims-makers may seek to generalize about a group from an aberrant or isolated incident involving some its members; or they may attempt to overemphasize that group's more unusual beliefs and or practices in hopes of portraying its members as deviants and misfits. Thus, it becomes apparent that there exists a specific agenda among claims- makers to portray practitioners of voodoo, specifically African Americans living around New Orleans, as particularly unsavory individuals. [...]
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