Race is socially constructed; it exists nowhere but in the minds of the people. Race is an idea created in the minds of the people, repeated through different forms of presentation, then consciously and subconsciously accepted by the people (Jimenez, 2019). In full knowledge of race as a social construct, the pioneers of Jim Crow envisioned providing a platform where people of all walks could learn more about how the idea of an inferior black community was created in the minds of the Americans post 1932, how the idea was enforced, and how the idea evolved over time. Lest we forget, the museum exists as a historical account of the many ways in which racism was engraved in the minds of the people. Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia explains how the racist memorabilia evoked bad memories of certain times in history, how exaggeration of blackness created the idea that guided the white man’s view of the black men, and how the racist imagery was used as a tool of propaganda that provoked brutality towards black communities. A demonstration of how the display of the racist memorabilia helps shape a discourse on race relations and the lessons learned therein will be provided in the end.
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia provides a historical account of the many ways of presenting blackness during and after the period of Jim Crow laws in the United States. This historical account begins with the Jim Crow comic upon entering the Museum to the point where Jim Crow became the social image of segregation and onwards to other events. This historical account bears with it memories of pain and suffering that the black community suffered at different times (King, 2017). There would be no surprise in an old man visiting the museum shedding tears at the sight of the Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia or an old woman not wanting to see a can of Gold Dust washing powder displayed at the museum. These historical instruments were not just clothes, pieces of art, of brands of consumer goods but actual sources of pain for the black community.
History is important and about context, controversies, and contentions. Applying this statement learned in class to the environment of the racist memorabilia in this discussion, each of the artifacts displayed at the museum has a context, a controversy, and contentions. A brand of washing powder such as Gold Dust, which is displayed in the museum, may just be a brand of soap to many people who may recall all about how good or bad the washing powder was good at removing dirt on linen or grease from the cooking pot. However, many people remember that this was a brand that represented the servitude and slavery that black women were exposed to at the time when the brand reined. Such images are not just considered offensive and racist but a reflection of real suffering that was meted out on people (Chakraborty, 2018). Applying the same logic to the Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia, there would be a Klan man or woman who sees the items as a representation of the fight for white supremacy but for other people these wearable paraphernalia are just a representation of the brutality that members of KKK unleashed on black men and women.
Other than providing historical accounts of injustice, suffering, and hostilities against the black community, the racist memorabilia showcases an exaggerated representation of blackness and the back community’s biological features. Some viewers would consider the caricatures and cartoons comical but these artifacts are offensive in that they do not in any way present any close resemblance to the black community. One of the exaggerated features is the glossy and pitch-black surface of the caricatures. Such a presentation indicates that the goal was not just to show the semblance of black but to present an image that no one wanted to be associated with. Mueller, Williams and Dirks (2018) noted the use of such imagery to showcase white men’s racial fantasies and fears. The same case applies to the bulging eyes, the wide and flat nose, large lips that are overly red and on an open moth that shows long, wide, and dirty teeth. The images and caricatures were meant to present the picture of an ugly creature, not human, that no one would like (Jimenez, 2019). The endgame was to brew hatred towards the black communities.
The exaggerated presentation of black men was especially important to white men who intended to use those images to keep the white women away from the black. It is not hard to find that to this day the black men are dismissed as having those same features shown in the museum. Such is the power of using the different artifacts in the museum to create an idea of what being racially black looks like. For many of the caricatures, the creators were white men who enjoyed and earned from the art or black men who were forced to work on sculptures, caricatures, and other similar items. Jim Crow himself was a white man acting black. The exaggeration was offensive first because it did not represent a true picture of the black men, it was offensive, was used by the whites to humiliate the blacks, and to this day one hears racist insults that refer to the pieces at the museum.
Another reason why materials at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia are indeed considered racist is the imagery of propaganda against the black community. Some of the pieces in the museum were used to present blacks as stupid, unintelligent, or not as intelligent as the whites. These pieces include comics where a white woman would be correcting the words of an “educated” black man in demeaning ways. Such comics were part of a long-standing social construction sponsored by people like Charles Darwin who referred to blacks as savage, less intelligent, and unable to adapt (King, 2017). In the post-Jim Crow period, the comics were used to create a social construct that indeed the blacks were stupid or less intelligent.
The racist materials in the Jim Crow Museum were used to spread propaganda that black men were hostile brutes who deserved similar treatment. The finding is consistent with the time when black men would be arbitrarily accused of rape and violence against women or the slave masters. The black men would then be roughed by in presence of their fellow black community to teach them a lesson. They would also be murdered in the presence of white men, women, and young children to show them how to deal with brutal black men. Effectively, the image of a postcard at the museum showing a gathering of whites surrounding a shirtless black man tied to a pole is a representation of propaganda against the black (Chakraborty, 2018). That is holistically and aggressively racist and the materials are therefore considered as such.
Racism dehumanizes the subject and the racist memorabilia in the museum was used to reflect the dehumanization of black people. In the museum, some caricatures look more like emonkeys than human beings yet they were created as a representation of human beings. In the museum, there are images of black men hanging from trees and fed to dogs. The images of animal-like human beings are specifically intended to dehumanize the people (Jimenez, 2019). There are images of black men with deformed backs as a result of maiming. Many of those images were sold as postcards in the US at the time when Jim Crow laws were still in place. However, being postcards does not make them less racist materials. They are an indication of just how far the racist views had been accepted and normalized in the United States. All the items are an important component of the heritage of the black people without which their story cannot be complete.
The overall view from the assessment of the materials at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is to the different factors they represent. Some of the items carry historical reminders of violence and servitude against the blacks. Other images were used as propaganda material that presented the blacks as unintelligent brutes. Still many of the pieces in the museum show the suffering of the black community in ways that only those who suffered would be able to explain. The fact that the memories above come out of seeing racist memorabilia, and the fact that the materials can be offensive means that they should be considered racist.
The images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Karl Marx are representations of a point in time when the black man rose to fight his basic human rights. The images of the smartly dressed black men and women are an indication of emancipation from servitude to self-determination. The image of a male professional chef contrasted with that of aunt Jemima in the same museum is an indication of the fight for equality of races in the United States (Jimenez, 2019). All the instruments in the museum should therefore not be seen as displays of artifacts but a representation of the memories of racism in the United States during Jim Crow.
The idea to collect and display the racist memorabilia in the museum makes sense and is justifies. The mind is frail and life limited. Many people may have forgotten about what inspired caricatures and the limitations of life mean that those who remember are dying quickly of old age. As the memories are lost among life’s challenges, some of the instruments displayed in the museum are still in production in different countries including Australia, Canada, and the United States. For instance, a dancing cartoon of Jim Crow is still production and without information, the young children of this age may never know what those images represented. Therefore, there is the need to constantly remind the people about how race was socially constructed
Continued production of some of the memorabilia by modern companies is an indication that many people still do not understand the histories and imagery of these memorabilia. Some companies innocently produce the items. Seeing the items in a museum of racist memorabilia may provoke such companies to consider the histories of the products and probably discontinue the production. Teaching the history and evolution of race is in itself a form of activism against racism as people tend to forget (Mueller, Williams & Dirks, 2018). The museum is, therefore, an important point of changing the narrative on racism with the target on the companies and businesses that may be continuing to produce the materials.
Another reason why it makes sense to collect and display the materials is the fact racism continues to thrive in the now color-blind society. Whiteness and blackness are now lost in Hispanics and African American names of the races. There are laws against discrimination based on color. However, such moves have not cured the problem of racism. The police still profile African Americans as brutal criminals, explaining the mass incarceration of black men in the US. Young African Americans are repeatedly fatally shot by the police with a recent online video rising to show a policeman saying that they only shoot blacks. White supremacy calls are on the rise during the reign of President Trump (House, 2017). All these are indications that the fight for quality of all races continues. The racist memorabilia would help remind the people of what it felt to be treated differently (House, 2017). The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is a constant reminder that the war against racism continues.
Many young people especially those of the connected generation may never know about the different ways in which race was historically presented unless they see it on the racist memorabilia in the museum. Postcards that glorify racism are no longer in use, signboards declaring white only or black only spaces are not anywhere to be seen today. Similarly, people who still buy some of the caricatures now repaint them to pink or another color in order not to appear racist. This means that the passage of time has continued to erase memories of a dark history in the life of African Americans and it counts to maintain memories of those days lest people forget.
The internet and especially the rise of many social media platforms are the new frontier in the battle against racism. Black teens are bullied for the look of their skin color. Noble (2018) noted about the use of algorithms of oppression on search engines thereby promoting racism. There are online groups that use the confederation flag, images of Ku Klux Clan paraphernalia, and many other instruments. This online representation of racist materials then flows to the streets with white supremacists going on a shooting rampage killing black people. At the core of the new frontline in the fight against racism, are the very same tactics that were used in the past. It is therefore important to teach young people about history, to let them know and identify racism when it is thrust on their faces, and to let them know that they can stand for the rights of the black communities even in the online environment. Von Blum (2017) stated that the memorabilia uses racist images to combat racism and encourage resistance especially among the young. The racist memorabilia, therefore, remains to have not just meaning but also relevance to the modern context of racism.
Due to racial systems, there are inequalities in economic, political, and social sense, including more poverty among blacks than whites. These inequalities between black and white neighborhoods are contextualized in the history of racism in the US. The fact that the majority of African Americans still live in poor neighborhoods is a product of the inequalities that existed during the Jim Crow. Serving racist memorabilia as a reminder of racism, therefore, serves to provide new ways of the young seeing and recognizing racism. Today the problem of othering and exclusion is used to cover up racism. However, there is a need to highlight the many economic, political, and social ills that face modern society. Holterhoff (2017) highlighted this need in the account of views from a digital archivist of racist materials.
Lastly, the collection and display of the artifacts in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia provides an opportunity for people to have discourses on how to eliminate racism and to be sensitive to the needs of all people. Cassanello (2017) stated that the memorabilia is important in teaching tolerance and social justice. The leadership of the museum categorically indicates that it serves to provide a platform where the people get to understand how the society was built to sustain a racial hierarchy and how people can change the conversation. Some people but caricature for their lawns without understanding the history of such caricature. By pointing out the imagery in many everyday items it becomes possible to see how the race was presented. Most importantly the memorabilia show how one can avoid advancing the racist discourse by avoiding the very items that represent the racial hierarchy in the society.
In conclusion, the pioneers of Jim Crow envisioned providing a platform where people of all walks could learn more about how the idea of an inferior black community was created in the minds of the Americans post 1932, how the idea was enforced, and how the idea evolved over time. Lest we forget, the museum exists as a historical account of the many ways in which racism was engraved in the minds of the people. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is an important center in learning about the history of racism. The memorabilia represents racists views based on the historical context, controversies, and contentions. The materials comprise exaggerations that remain offensive. At the same time, the imagery in the pieces displayed in the museum needs to be deconstructed. It is important to display those items today as a preservation of memories about a dark point in time for the African Americans. Some of the images are alive now as they were during Jim Crow. There may be a new frontier in the battle against racism, othering, and exclusion but the principles of winning the battle will not change. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia is an important reminder of what the fight is against and how the young men and women of the connected generation must engage in racist views.