Saturday, December 20, 2008
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia
Don't anyone tell me that the way to foster understanding, and peace, in the world is by destroying or hiding offensive images! I'd never heard of the museum until I learned of the restaurant, after I bought a fake racist drinking glass.
Not sure if it is on a similar note, but their is a brand of cheese sold in supermarkets over here called "Coon Cheese".
Racist? Not sure...
My dear friend Steve Creech, who passed away this fall, had a "Colored" sign from a Richmond, VA public restroom he found tossed in a dumpster. He kept it so that such would never be forgotten; he figured the person who tossed it either didn't care, or was deliberately trying to white-wash (no pun intended) Richmond's less-savory past. I'm actually all in favor of this kind of thing, although I'm not sure about the museum itself. . .
DrLobo: I actually have a small collection of small highball (sp?) glasses, from nightclubs. Very small. About the size of a small orange juice glass. I thought this one was from a nightclub at first.
I may go around the house and just write down how many things I own that would be culturally or historically offensive to somebody! (I know I can't compete with you, DrLoboJo!)
I also have no problem with folks having any sort of personal or family memorabilia, or even purchasing something important historically. I would even go so far (referencing something a commenter wrote about in an early post here) as to include a set of shackles used during the Middle Passage, say, or even for use on a plantation.
These tangible items need to be kept as reminders of our less savory moments as a people.
I call it Crackerville and so far it contains:
A model of a double-wide mobile home, but set up on cinder blocks. The toilet is used as a baby bath and the tub is used as a dresser: piles of folded, plaid shirts (size XL with the belly area oddly stretched and perpetually gravy stained), denim dresses with bows behind (size 22), and dozens of fraying tank tops the size of tents.
A loaf of wonder bread sits on the windowsill above the sink along with really, really miniature NASCAR models. On the walls are frames covers of US magazine with Brittany Spears at various ages. They are all oddly marked “Property of North Side High School, Ft. Smith, AR.”
[As an aside, I always wonder at the inability of certain cities to come up with any kind of interesting name for their High Schools, ex. Wichita, Ft. Smith, etc.]
In the bedroom there are laminated copies of the state incest laws tacked up. Above the headboard is the velvet Elvis with a white, blue eyed Jesus just behind him in smaller, blurrier fashion.
On the bookshelf, sitting right next to the propane heater, there are three books: two cookbooks, “A Little Meat in Every Meal” (with cracked spine and pages falling out) and “Cooking for The Diabetic: by Scott and White Hospital Kitchen” (still in its plastic wrapper), and one oversized edition of a collection of Archie comics. The rest of the shelf is filled with objects. A full vial of insulin; a metal plaque in the shape of Mississippi with the Confederate Flag superimposed on it; a trophy that is labeled “Guitar Hero – Second Place”; a 3 Year VHS set of Rugrats cartoons; cassette tapes of the greatest hits of Rod Stewart, Alabama, and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Outside is a large, dirt colored mutt connected by wire to what was supposed to serve as the laundry line. There is an expired stove, empty propane tanks, two Big Wheels (unused since I don’t know when) and an antique baby carriage just about rusted to the ground.
Parked without apparent designated place is a Toyota “pick ‘em up truck” with a decal saying, “Honk if you love rednecks!” and another one saying, “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter” and a third, “To all Virgins: Thanks For Nothing!” and then a fourth, hardly ever seen in these parts, "Edwards for President!"
In the cab, among distributer caps, jugs of gasoline, and plastic nursing bottles, there’s a TV Guide copy with Della Reese and Delta Burke on the cover, but inside, “The Biggest Loser” is underlined for every Tuesday evening.
The family is nowhere to be seen because they all got in the Chevy Cutlass to spend the Xmas bonus he gets from the Coon-Chicken Inn Reproduction Factory at the Blue Lagoon tanning shop right next to the New Light Baptist Fellowship downtown. They just can’t seem to get brown enough to suit.
So some used what they heard second-hand and tried to join in, not having fully digested things like redaction criticism, liberation theology, black critical thought, Barth, Childs, or Irenaeus.
These few often upped their moral outrage component as a reaction to feeling like they were loosing ground.
And if his umbrage is about my bringing his wife into this discussion, he should know that blithely (with tongue in cheekiness) bringing up shackles... brings my family into the discussion.
I suggest you heed the eternal wisdom and admonition of Deputy Bernard P. Fife, and ...
My best conjecture is that black folks don't need or want the Confederacy around home for reminders of the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing organized and overt hatred of them. Such signifiers are not needed. The story is conveyed in the flesh as it were.
But a mammy milk jug is a more helpful clarifier of the present "soft" forms of systemic prejudice that black folks work to keep ever present in their minds. This sharp consciousness is necessary to interpret their everyday work-lives, political lives, cultural participation in wider America, and for the sake of teaching their children. Such signifiers can be helpful when living in a white dominated social sphere.
What offends me is what I perceive to be a very misbalanced appreciation for the historic over the current by you and GKS, here at least. And I can only put that down to white ignorance.
Do we really think shackles are historic? How about the tattooed numbers on my neighbor Frieda's left, inner forearm?
It is a personality flaw for sure.
My adult children have already gone around the house several times saying such things as:
" Please don't leave that for us to get rid of."
" Surely those are not a real scalps."
"Finger bones in you medicine necklace? Isn't that illegal?"
"Why would you want a train station sign that says, "White Waiting Room"?"
"Why would you NEED a jar of black cat's bones?"
"Is that real buffalo shit?, You season what with it?"
"Can I have you statue of the 'Buddy Christ'."
So if anyone has anything that is culturally offensive and wants to give it a good home where it will serve a truly righteous purpose, send it to me. Shackles, brass slave tags, 'colored only' signs,'No Indians' signs',Nazi memorabilia, will be welcome here.
(No Confederate flags needed, I've got enough)
Yes, a well done photograph of her showing the tattoo would be a valuable artifact, and a historical footnote for the culture and the family. Now the tattoo extracted, tanned, and displayed upon her demise might seem to radical, but it would make an impression of history expotentially more potent than a photo.
Context and purpose are of course the substance of the meaning of anything.
Precisely so. But, aside from my much earlier extended and resented comments, no offering of what context and purpose - and no defense to any challenge of implicit lack of context and purpose - has been offered.
No effort on what a morally imagined "other" may think. On the contrary, the defense has been, "I don't care what others think."
No effort made regarding the difference between curated museums and photos on internet display. On the contrary, the defense has been, "I'll put whatever I want up."
There has been very little engagement with the morally structuring roles of "context and purpose." To which I would the total absence of the morally structuring role of communal discussion that reveals "context and purpose" to be debatable things within a society. One may think one has reached context and purpose, only to find how short-sighted one is on one's own.
I'll send you a Bible, drlobojo.
Feodor, the fact is I don't give a damn what YOU think, since you've made it clear that from me you will accept nothing but total capitulation to your own view, which you have not earned.
Now, your remark suggesting a personal stake on your part in shackles can mean onoy a few things:
You're descended from slaves, slave traders or slave owners. Or, traders in such artifacts. Which?
Second, I really don't know why some folks get all het up by this kind of thing. After perusing the museum website, taking a look at its displays and how they are done, I find it to be a wonderful reminder that there was an entire culture based upon racist stereotypes, including a commercial culture, that still exists (the whole "Running Nigger Target" thing, that was for sale as late as 2001).
As for you neighbor's Holocaust tattoo, I have known a few folks who hid them, others who practically framed them, and still others who couldn't care less about them (looking back, I'm amazed at the number of survivors I've known in my life). The point for our discussion here is simple - it isn't up to you to determine how anyone else should think and feel, especially about cultural artifacts that many deem "offensive" in some way. Alan's suggestion of the Bible is pointed enough, I think to be clear.
I find television offensive. We do not have cable or satellite in our house, and we do now own a converter box, so when it goes digital in February, we will be cut off from even antenna broadcast. Good. I would never presume to tell anyone not to own a television, not to watch television, etc.. I find much of the content degrading, especially the plethora of "reality" shows. It destroys children's minds. It reduces our politics to a contest of easily drawn, caricatured "personalities". I want nothing to do with it.
I wouldn't consider anyone who does watch it a philistine, because, as a grown-up, I recognize that other people have views different from my own. And I'm OK with that. That's why I have no problem with ER's throw, drlobojo's collection of various and sundry things, or what have you. I don't have any issue with any individual owning anything that provides some kind of meaning and perspective in their lives.
Nor do I have a problem with a museum dedicated to preserving an important part of our national heritage. It's an ugly part, but it's still a part.
Shackles="running nigger target thing"=human ashes=Philco television=throw=shot glass.
And all a "wonderful reminder."
"I don't care" is also what you said about fetal human life.
What kind of seminary forms such cavalier thinking?
Mine would not tolerate dissolving all attention and effort.
And how on earth do we as a society reverse this white-washing of rhetorical attention to values, much less renew deep ethics themselves?
Feodor lost me when he started the whole thing about marrying someone who went to seminary, blah, blah, blah. It was basically the snotty liberal intellectual elite equivalent of flaming someone for bad spelling in a blog comment. Sure, spelling is important, but yeah, so what?
Dude, I've got more letters behind my name than in my name.
Who the frak cares?
Geoffrey wrote, " That's why I have no problem with ER's throw, drlobojo's collection of various and sundry things, or what have you. "
You should see my extensive collection of Lego Star Wars stuff. 18 inch Lego Darth Vader, remote control Lego R2-D2, etc. A Lego Darth Vader is probably offensive to anyone from Alderaan. And Lego R2-D2 may be offensive to those who advocate for droid rights.
Maybe I shouldn't write comments during Sunday evening martini time. It probably just pisses people off.
On the merits of his further comment, no there is no difference. They are just things, with no intrinsic meaning of their own. It is we who imbue things with meaning. A swastika means one thing to a Navajo, another to a Hindu, and still another to a Nazi. Which one is "correct"? Who judges that meaning? You presume to speak of and for African-Americans on issues of racism; of and for Holocaust survivors on how they should deal with that part of their lives; and pretty much anyone else on how they react towards various items. I cannot begin to fathom the depths of arrogance it takes to be so presumptuous.
I fail, also, to understand the relevance of my stance on abortion to all this. Besides that, you pretty much distort what I have said, repeatedly, and recently, on the issue. Yours is not the only pro-choice voice out there, and I will thank you not to presume to speak for me again.
This is indeed getting tiresome.
Alan, sounds like you could open a little museum of your own. Are any of the packages unopened?
What, exactly, do you think of the Holocaust Museum, Feodor You know, they have a train car that took Jews to death camps; they have the sign over the entrance to Auschwitz. They have a couple uniforms worn by inmates. They have piles of artificial limbs collected by the Nazis. They have the photos - all that is left - of an entire Ukrainian schtetl wiped out by the Nazis. All of it, every single solitary bit of it, could be construed, in the manner you describe, as offensive. Yet, it is indeed a "wonderful" reminder of the depths of human depravity. I am using the word in its literal meaning, mind you, of being full of wonder at just how far and how deep our streak of evil runs, and what its results are.
I am no relativist. I am, however, quite happy with my own moral conscience on any number of issues, to the point of not needing to tell others how wrong they are.
Yes, I'm thirty-mumble going on 12 years old.
"What kind of seminary forms such cavalier thinking? Mine would not tolerate dissolving all attention and effort."
Ah, I didn't know that, but now I get it. Seminary student. That explains everything to those of us with ... ahem ... ya know ... a couple of real degrees in real fields of study. ;) Heh.
Actually, for my part is was "Others can think what they like, but they can't tell me what I think. And they also cannot make ME morally responsible for their thoughts."
Even as I was writing it, I knew that the picture as drawn is not very analogous. There is no racist packaging of white people because we defined the terms of racism in our country (and so did not include ourselves).
What I did was drag in the second mortal sin of white America: class judgment. The irony is that white people wont really squirm under my picture. We pretty much accept the Calvinist formula: financial success = God's favor.
So how to describe the way in which most black folks live today having battled or battling still deep seated and constant worry that America sees them as inherently ugly, as inherently angry, as probably lazy, stupid, short on follow through? Perhaps I should say most successful, middle and upper middle class black folks live consciously with this battle. Their relative security affords them the freedom to engage with their inner demons.
How to describe for my own people how we put those demons there? (GKS denies this, but he denies responsibility for anything outside his own privatized life. It's a free for all otherwise.)
How to draw a moral world in which these reported realities can be heard, these inherited responsibilities owned?
In such a world your throw takes its best role; the drinking glass, the mammy syrup bottle, the lawn jockey (why not have a lawn jockey out, ER?), and yes, even the shackles would all have their full and dreadfully appropriate voice.
That is what museums can do. Whether they do that is up to how they are displayed and who a person is that goes to see the display. Personal collections can, too. But the appropriateness of collections of these kinds of things by a white man or woman depends solely on how deeply that man or woman has penetrated and made themselves vulnerable to black folks in particular. Otherwise, it is sentimental inhumanity.
I don't ask for capitulation. This is your hyperbolic way to get out of what is going on, an aborted discussion of context, purpose, and communal meaning. I'm just asking for reasoning. Drlobojo says it is all important.
What I usually get is "I'm not rethinking it. It's personal. It's private. Other people do it." As I said elsewhere to a similar chorus: I hear this in High School.
Who am i descended from? Slave owners and slaves and traders in American horror and glory. Just like you.
As for GKS, how can I expect him to see the relative equations located right there in how he talks about things when he can't even see "wonderful reminder" in his comment just previous to mine?
I have been to the Holocaust Museum, a few times. I walked through that car. My wife would not. She is more sensitive. I walked through it like others do. With immense silence, tears, my heart aching in my chest, and humbly knowing that I cannot begin to understand the horror that happened in that car or with the shoes piled beneath, the suitcases, the glasses.
My point is that you talk about shackles with no whisper of immense silence or ethical humility. That is exactly my point.
I have never said do away with offensive things. I have always said it matters how we talk about them, how we treat them, how we understand ourselves and our moral situation when doing so. I am humble before shackles because I was not chained in them. I am humbled before ovens, because I was not burned in them. I am humbled before a confederate flag because I was not lynched in front of it.
I am humble before a fetus, before a woman thinking about abortion, before my poor white relatives driving me in their Toyota 'pick em up truck' to DFW airport.
I am humbled because it is always the weak who are hurt most. Hurt by violence, poverty, or really poorly thought out ethical and moral identity.
The weak are always the ones hurt most.
And I don't confuse any of you with them.
I attended Wesley Theological Seminary, 4500 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC, from September, 1990, until I graduated with a Master of Theological Studies Degree on May 10, 1993, two days after I got married.
What's not explained is "liberal fundamentalist."
Strange, I definatly got that from the first thing you said in that thread, which was something like "That confederate throw has to go."
I said, "I have never said do away with offensive things. I have always said it matters how we talk about them, how we treat them, how we understand ourselves and our moral situation when doing so."
Therefore, if how it is treated does not make Drlobojo's "context and purpose" clear, it has to go. If the context and purpose are present, then it can be displayed. "Going away" doesn't mean "doing away." Although one has to be trained in philosophy to give this seemingly inane sentence its due.
As for what you said at the time: "About the confederate throw...has a specific meaning personal to the person keeping it. Said person is not responsible for the meanings imposed on it from the outside...especially if it is kep in a personal zone like a man-cave..."
It's pretty impressive how long we have concerned ourselves - being people nearly totally unknown to each other - with what you think is kept in a personal zone.
Shoot, the National Museum of American History is, too, for that matter. The Museum of Natural History probably offends creationists.
C'mon, dude. Seriously. Think about what you are saying, and how you are saying it. I for one do not wish you to go away. I, for one, just don't like moral scolds, be they liberal or conservative.
THAT is "liberal fundamentalism"! I swear to God (so to speak), talking to you is like talking to a biblical literalist! "It's my way or the highway!"
Very Christian of you, actually, sadly, historically.
What part of " I have always said it matters how we talk about them, how we treat them, how we understand ourselves and our moral situation when doing so" don't you understand?
The holocaust museum is a horribly necessary experience. More than a reminder, it is soul shaking, and can reshape one's moral understanding.
I for one cannot talk about throws or lawn jockeys in the same way. We are in categorically different discourses here. That you go from urn to a Holocaust and then call it chock-a-block full" is so glib and inattentive to the differences in human experience that words fail me. I wish words failed you when it comes the Holocaust, slavery, developing human life. The dead, the living, the coming to life would be better served by your M.T.S if you would go silent.
You need to read (or reread) Elie Wiesel for a start.
From the Huffington Post Dec '08:
"White vigilante groups blockaded small town in post-Katrina New Orleans and murdered blacks."
From the Christian Science Monitor Sept. '08:
"Global slavery at a high."
Print and save the news in a keepsake box, GKS - they will be such wonderful reminders.
I forgot, you guys think I speak by fiat.
Get out of your newspaperman ethic, ER, and deliver an extended, informed opinon. Be Howell Raines, for God's sake.
I would never deny collective responsibility for certain actions. Only an idiot does that. What I deny is that I, or ER, or anyone else has any responsibility whatsoever to subscribe to your own understanding of what that might be, and how we are to live out that responsibility. It isn't so much a "free for all" as it is allowing others to be completely free moral agents. That includes arriving at wholly different conclusions on a whole host of matters, and yet still being completely moral, completely a part of humanity.
I am glad you experienced the Holocaust Memorial Museum without getting your sensitivities in a bunch. There are few experiences that inspire awe in its original meaning, fear and dread, than walking not just through that box car, but seeing the bedding where the inmates slept, or that pile of shoes, and glasses, and artificial limbs. Weeping doesn't even begin to do justice.
How, pray tell, is such a collection different in any manner, fashion, or form, than the one in question here, or ER's throw rug, or any of a hundred items I could imagine people find offensive in some way? If it is all context, then I guess the relativist is not me - I refuse to accept your title, because as I clearly explained to you, it is a meaningless set of words to me - but you. It is only good and right done in such a way to . . . what, exactly? An African-American keeping a museum of the memorabilia of a long period in our national life is not OK, but a museum that includes many of the instruments of genocide, and reminders of its human cost is? I don't understand the difference here. My guess is, at its heart, neither do you.
You need to read what I am writing. I am saying that, so far, the understanding represented here as to why he would do so, or why these objects have meaning, or how to display them, or the differences between it and the Confederate flag in its various forms... I am saying that, so far, what I read here doesn't get it (IMHO).
And I am saying that we are not getting it because, largely, we are white.... and have great, hard to acknowledge, difficulty in getting it. And having two friends who are black doesn't cut it... not even close.
See, I speak from experience, because I used to be like you.
Richard Rubenstein is a scholar of religion who lost his faith in God because of his encounter with the Holocaust as a scholar. In a work he wrote with Christian theologian John Roth entitled Approaches to Auschwitz Rubenstein reports on a survey done in Israel on the impact of the Holocaust upon the religious belief of those who had survived. The result was surprising - there was no one way a majority of Holocaust survivors took in their experience. Some lost their faith; many others either reported no impact at all, or even a deepening of their faith. From that I learned a valuable lesson - presuming to know how others should feel, act, respond, whatever to anything, even something as monstrous as the Holocaust, is to presume there is only one way of being fully human.
You betray all the hallmarks of a certain moral earnestness I recognize because it used to be a part of my own makeup as well. The difference between us, I think, is best summed up by the fact that I do not believe for one moment I could assume to know anything about you as an individual from any single sentence you have written; taken as a whole, however, your attitude and choice of wording certainly tell me quite a bit. You on the other hand have been guessing wrong about me from the start. I would have thought that you might give it up, having failed so miserably. No matter how many times you hit your head against that brick wall, dude, it is still gonna hurt.
Your glib, and purely nasty, thought that I am some kind of morally obtuse individual only goes to prove that you have a long way to go, dude.
I would not presume to take the psychological process and internalization of Holocaust survivors and prescribe them to non-Jewish observers. If you are Jewish then numbers of books read really isn't pertinent is it?
I can't internalize slavery like a black person, no matter how many books I read or how close to a locked ward I get. It just can't happen. I am not black.
Your example is specious.
I know the address of what seminary you attended and almost how many books you have shelved. But I do know this: whatever part of your soul was "ripped away" by reading was not a part that was learning about the the Holocaust.
The crisis has to do with you and whether you make peace with your own capacity for darkness.
"How many Holocaust movies have you seen, dude? Aren't they cool!"
God, what an armchair moralist.
I really have no more to say to you. Seriously, dude. Stop, before I lose my cool with you.