Perspective: Hateful Things
Do you own any Mammy salt and pepper shakers? Do you know where they come from? Running now through April 9 at the Pick Museum of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University is an exhibit called Hateful Things. It’s a traveling exhibit by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which houses over 9,000 artifacts.
Throughout American history, it was not uncommon to see African Americans depicted as sub-human: cookie jars, calendars, games, movies, product icons, and on. Not just sub-human, but unclean, beastly, violent, lascivious, dangerous… or buffoonish, silly, lazy, ignorant, and unrefined. It’s important to recognize that despite negative images of White folks, White representations were generally noble, intelligent, beautiful, and, well, civilized. These choices had devastating consequences in how African Americans are seen and stereotyped.
These racist products were pervasive across the country. When we talk about Jim Crow -- the name for the system of legal racial segregation -- we tend to think about it as a Southern phenomenon. The South was the avatar for racism. But like all avatars, the reality is more complex. Using the South as the avatar for racism allowed those in the North and West to escape atoning for their own complicity in maintaining racism.
The exhibit has artifacts made in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. This isn’t old history. The exhibit allows a space to reflect and dialogue about this history, for if we cannot talk about our history honestly -- both the beautiful and wretched -- we cannot find common ground in order to move forward.
I’m Joseph Flynn and that is my perspective. For more information about the exhibit please go to the Pick Museum website. Happy Black Heritage Month!