Should ‘antique’ racist ‘memorabilia’ be destroyed?

I was reading any article today ( about the collection of racist memorabilia towards African Americans and two very strong arguments emerge: Destroy it all because it’s painful and overwhelmingly offensive or keep it all and document it because it’s a reminder of how awful people can be and use that information help future subjected people.

I’m not African American so I can’t pretend that I know exactly how it feels. I mean, I know how it feels to see old sexist ads or how I feel when Christians and politicians tell me what I have a right to do with my body. I know how I feel when I see photographs of “No Irish Need Apply” signs in New York. I know how all that feels and how painful that is, but it’s different for African Americans. Their experience is quite different from a max exodus of down trodden and starving people being mistreated and experiencing a “out of the frying pan and into the fire” type of situation. They didn’t have a choice and suffered all their lives. Would I collect racist memorabilia of the Irish in America? No. I don’t want to continually look at anything offensive. I wouldn’t want it destroyed either. It needs to be documented for the sake of remembering how ugly we can be.

I have a serious issue towards racism because of experiences in my life and I often feel exasperated with racism towards whites because it’s considered “okay” to rip us apart even if many, many, many whites aren’t racist. It seems to be about us taking “our due” … but racism is racism, now matter how you spin it. When I lived in Hawaii for five years I received what I would call serious racism. I was spit on by strangers, jumped by kids I barely knew when I was 14 on ‘Kill Haole Day’; was told by police that I deserved it. Was told that by school officials too. They looked the other way when white kids were bullied. Friend’s parents didn’t want me sullying their homes with my whiteness…guys wouldn’t date a white girl because their families wouldn’t approve. All that in addition to an endless stream of verbal abuse. I know what it’s like to feel so utterly destroyed by racism, albeit in a different way. It gave me anger issues and made me suicidal for awhile. I forgot what it was like to be treated like everyone else. I felt like I was trapped and would never get out. Sometimes I wonder if some of the racist-towards-whites people have even received the amount of racism I did. I didn’t turn out racist, there were people who weren’t racist after all, even if I hated the people that did that to me. Instead I turned out sympathetic and adamant that no form of racism is okay. Not that I even needed that experience to know that but I guess, I’m more vocal about it. But I digress…

So, should we keep the racist items or destroy them? I can sympathize with how painful that must be. It’s a reminder of an extremely painful chapter in their history and why some people would want to erase everything. However, I think it’s dangerous to try to erase history.

Like it or not (and I’m pretty sure the majority of all Americans DON’T like it) this ugliness is part of American history. If you erase everything unpleasant about it you’ll be left with Hollywood depictions of cowboy and patriot grandeur. I think it’s important to keep what the author calls “Sambo Memorabilia” because it’s a reminder of what Americans did, their poor reasons for doing so, why those reasons were wrong and why this should never, ever, ever happen to people again. Why people should never be robbed of their culture again. Why people should never be subjugated again. In addition, I’m a strong believer in knowing your history and that old adage about how you’re doomed to repeat it if you don’t know it. If these offensive works play some part in making sure no one else in this country is subjugated wouldn’t it be worth it?

For a couple years they’ve been wanting to change Jim’s name in Huckleberry Finn because there is a certain slur in front of his name. Some parents even want to put it on the banned books list. The people that want this clearly don’t understand Mark Twain and his works because he wasn’t a racist. He viewed African Americans as his equal in an age when almost no one thought so.You can look it up. Do it. At the beginning of the Huckleberry Finn book I have there is even a note from the author explaining the use of the word and only doing so to keep it historically accurate to the times. People tend to ignore that.

Even if Twain himself wasn’t a racist I don’t agree with changing it because, again, it’s part of history. It opens a window into the history of how people were treated and it’s important that people learn from that. When I read it in school it was…I think it was the 5th or 6th grade, we were instructed to skip over the N-word while reading it out-loud and it was explained to us (like we didn’t already know at that age) why that word was so incredibly offensive. If they want to print a “child safe” version then fine, do that, I can agree to that. Don’t change the books as a whole though. Am I uncomfortable when I read that word? Sure. Would I change it? No.

People also want to ban Zip-a-dee do-dah because the man singing with the cartoon rabbit is dressed in slave garb and to ban Dumbo and The Jungle Book because it allegedly depicted African Americans in a stereotypical manner. When I was a kid I didn’t even notice that because I didn’t know the stereotype. I think most of the kids are like that. Racism is a learned behavior. I don’t want those cartoons changed either, and for the same reason. History. I know it’s more complicated than how I’m making it. I just don’t know what else to say on the matter.

So yeah, I can sympathize with wanting to erase it all and…I don’t think I’m saying this right, but move forward with a “clean slate”…that’s not the right way to put it because a clean slate implies they did something wrong when they didn’t. I guess cutting ties would be more appropriate. Sorry, I’m not explaining myself well. As I said though, destroying history and eventually forgetting it and the emotions attached to those events is a dangerous thing. My personal belief is that humans document and remember their history because it’s meant to be learned from. Humans do awful things and incredible things and learn from both of them. Creating a continual pattern of learning from our past is the only way we’re going to better ourselves as a species.

If this offensive I apologize. It was not meant as such. All I’m trying to do is express what happened to me, the seriousness in which I take history and how it can be used as a tool.

So gentle reader…

Do you think we should keep it or change it? Why?

Regardless of what we think the most important thing of all is to treat each person with the same amount of respect and dignity and only judge them by their actions.


5 thoughts on “Should ‘antique’ racist ‘memorabilia’ be destroyed?

  1. I was in an antique store yesterday, and I saw three booths that contained handmade Mammy dolls, and a fourth booth that contained three advertisement posters depicting racist images of frightening big eyed looking African Americans one of which was selling toothpaste to “darkies.” I was horrified, as I stood there transfixed not being able to pull away, as the pain started welling inside my soul. I slowly walked away, just a little more damaged than before, and as I was leaving I vowed never to return to that store again. At first instinct I would want this racist memorabilia destroyed, but we cannot destroy it! We cannot forget our past! Slavery, reconstruction, forced imprisonment, lynching, lies, The Black codes, and Whites creating our ghettos, the list goes on and on, and these are all part of all of our histories. We have to learn about it, and not hide it. Our education has been hiding the truth since the beginning of time, because we live in a White Supremacist world. I am Irish too, but the Irish and Whites in Hawaii have never experienced the racism that people of color, but especially the African diaspora have experienced since Whites set foot on their lands. The Irish, Jewish, or any White person can move to a safe place, they can leave Hawaii, and they can assimilate into White culture. African Americans cannot not do this, for the exact reason why they were enslaved in the first place, because of the color of their skin.

    • I saw something like that in an antique store in a redneck town when I was about nine. It was this old tin sign of two very racist-ly depicted African American boys holding a dog over a log and trying to cut off its tail. The caption said “He knows it won’t hurt. He trusts his master” It wasn’t an advertisement for anything, it was just racist…I really hesitate to use the word art. Let’s say “creation’for the sake of being racist. Seriously though, how fucked up is that? I went and got my mom because I just didn’t understand it and why someone would make it and what it was supposed to accomplish. Just looking at that made me feel dirty at nine years old. I wasn’t raised in an environment like that so I couldn’t understand why people would think that way. I don’t think we went back to that particular antique store either.

  2. I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Great post!

  3. […] I ran into a blogger’s post who was questioning whether or not we should destroy all racist memorabilia. She had read an article […]

  4. […] Should ‘antique’ racist ‘memorabilia’ be destroyed? ( […]

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