|When viewing the artifacts
in The Authentic History Center's collection, some of
you will try to distance yourselves from the harm in
these images by giving excuses for them. For that reason,
consider reading this section before continuing on into
the collection. Common excuses used to justify stereotyping
okay to stereotype one group because other people/groups
are stereotyped as well.
|This is flawed
logic. Humans should operate on the premise that it's
never acceptable to intentionally stereotype races of
people, regardless of how many races are caricatured.
Consider the old saying, "two wrongs don't make
a right." With this in mind, it should be noted
anyway that since Caucasians have long been in control
of the country's imagery, they have had a free ride
from being caricatured for hundreds of years now, at
the expense of every other race. Some of you will say,
"What about all of those 'redneck' jokes? Isn't
that stereotyping of Whites?" While much of this
humor is stereotypical and distasteful, it is
based on regional and economic differences, not on skin
color; and since it originated by Whites, it's a self-parody,
which is not the same as when one race caricatures another.
Ask yourself, did the government discriminate against
"rednecks" based on their...redneckness? Were
they enslaved for two hundred fifty years and then legally
segregated for another hundred years?
it's funny, then it's not offensive.
|Some stereotyping is intended
to be funny. If your first reaction is to laugh at a
racist joke or image, you're not alone, and it doesn't
necessarily mean you are a racist. However, you should
then stop and consider why it is that you're laughing.
Maybe you're just enjoying the sense of security you
get by being part of the "in group" that gets
to laugh, rather than a part of the "out group"
whose differences are being laughed at. We all want
to be insiders. Chances are that the person being stereotyped
does not share your opinion about the humor and feels
offended. Something can be funny and offensive.
If you're hurting other people, you're hurting yourself
too, because you're limiting your development as a human
being. Next time, try to think about and feel for that
other person before laughing. Develop empathy.
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stereotypes are so old that they're not offensive anymore.
|While these stereotypes
are often very old, they're not "history."
Most caricatures never completely die. Some are
still around virtually unchanged, while others
have evolved and become a little less obvious.
New caricatures appear all the time. Some old
images from the early 1900s are being slapped
on mouse pads and watch faces and sold as new,
"nostalgic" items; there is a huge Internet
and antique store market for reproductions of
old racist artifacts; and new items with new images
frequently enter the marketplace. The bottom line
is that racist artifacts are still being made
and sold today on the Internet and in retail stores,
and the stereotyping they promote is still being
used to justify prejudice and discrimination.
images are understandable because it was just a normal
part of life back then.
|It's true that inhumane treatment
of humans by other humans has a long, long history,
and that we really didn't get around to thinking much
about basic human rights until The Enlightenment in
the 18th century. It is a good idea to use "historical
perspective" when studying history, which means
you have to try to judge people and their behaviors
based on the ethical and moral standards of the time
period in which they lived. In doing so, remember that
there were voices during the Colonial and antebellum
days of slavery who were saying it was wrong.
There were people in the US who were against
the dispossession of the Indian peoples, and later,
the efforts to force Indians to abandon their culture
and assimilate into the general populace. There were people who protested the internment of Japanese-Americans
during WWII. Racism certainly was extremely common and
obvious throughout American history, but that doesn't
mean it was right. Racism was sometimes public policy,
and that's part of the country's heritage. Americans have made
efforts to correct some of these past mistakes, which
is extremely important to remember. We study these images
to understand the past, to celebrate the progress
made, and to be more aware of the work still to be done.
If we pretend these things didn't happen, we diminish
ourselves, and we set the stage for history to repeat.
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the image is "cute" or part of a child's toy,
it's not offensive.
|When viewing these items,
you must teach yourself to view an item in context with the history of all of these items. One "cute"
item by itself probably wouldn't be problematic. But
individual items don't exist in a vacuum. You can't
pretend that they do. Even if the item is a cherished
toy from your childhood, you must think about the item's
relationship to all of the other items in the collection,
and the history of the caricature it represents. See
the explanation of the continuum below for more details.
|6. If the image didn't intend to be racist or offensive,
then it isn't.
|Some of the items you'll
see in the collection were obviously intended to be
hurtful. Most of these fall into the category of novelty
items, and we can more easily categorize these items
as being racist and highly offensive. However, many
of the images you'll see didn't intend to be racist
at all. Many corporate icons and name brand products
featured racist images, especially from the 1870s to
the 1960s. These images still caused harm, and they
helped to legitimize and perpetuate the caricatures,
thereby justifying continued discrimination. Many Whites
with little or no contact with non-Whites based their
mental image of these "others" on these images.
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it doesn't include the word "nigger", then
it's not racist
|Most people can
agree that when used with an obvious intent to harm,
the word nigger is racist (for a good history
of the word, go here).
Unfortunately, many people conversely believe that only that word (and its ethnic counterparts) is racist, and
that everything else is okay. That's simply not true.
All of these items exist on what is called a continuum.
Think of it as a scale, from most racist down to least
racist. While items with the word "nigger"
are blatantly offensive, they are only one end of a
continuum. They still exist because they're connected
to all of the lesser caricatured items that too many
people accept. Consider the blatantly offensive"Nigger
Head Oysters" product. This a modern item, a reproduction
of a real product that was produced in the early 1900s.
It exists because it's part of a continuum of lesser
caricatured items, heading toward the right. The last
item, produced in 2003, is a trash-talking pimp doll.
It too is a racist item, it just falls on the farther
end of the continuum. Many people today find it humorous.
Because so many people do, it contributes to acceptance
of the more offensive images.
Some people new to these images don't find anything
wrong with the mammy caricature at all, especially
the softly caricatured examples of her. Once again,
it's important to put the item in context with all of
the other items. A continuum of just mammy items
might look like this:
|The very last image is the
recently updated Aunt Jemima corporate character, one
of the most famous mammies of all time. Compare her
with the other example of Aunt Jemima, further up the
continuum. Should Aunt Jemima have simply been "retired"
rather than updated? Maybe. Those kinds of questions
are debatable. One can't have an informed opinion, however,
without considering the long history of where Aunt Jemima
sits on the mammy continuum.
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Blacks call each other "nigger" so I should
be able to.
jock" Don Imus received national attention when
he referred to the women's NCAA runner-ups as "nappy-headed
hoes." Public outrage by prominent African American
leaders soon pressured NBC to fire him. Some saw this
as appropriate, while others saw evidence of a double
standard. Why was it unacceptable for Caucasian Don
Imus to say this, while Black comedians and rap artists
can get away with the same language, and with calling
each other nigger? Public use of that language,
regardless of who speaks it, is harmful and offensive.
That many young African Americans have appropriated
such language in public discourse is a source of concern
and frustration for African Americans of the Civil Rights
Era. Many of them have publicly criticized certain rap
artists for perpetuating stereotypes. Young Black Americans
are not born with a complete knowledge of Black history
any more than is anyone else. Their ignorance has, in
some cases, helped keep old stereotypes alive and has
allowed too many other young Americans to claim license
to use the same kind of language in public. For a more
thorough discussion on this topic you can listen to
the June 18 episode of Day To Day on National
Public Radio: [Simply
Slang, or a Culture of Disrespect?]
This is a positive stereotype--what's wrong with that?
|Some stereotypes could be
qualified as "positive" ones, like some of
the team mascots that are so common in the US. These
are commonly justified as being okay because they "honor"
their subjects. The team mascot debate will be covered
in detail in the Native American section, but it's important
to remember that even so-called positive stereotypes do harm because they depict real human beings as being
unreal. Additionally, when the subject involves Native
Americans, these "positive" images consistently
characterize Indians as a people of the past, not of
the present (or future), further confirming their "other"
status and drawing attention away from contemporary
Native American issues.
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If I don't find it offensive, then it isn't offensive.
|What each person
finds offensive is going to vary based on that person's
values, past experiences, and education. The more a
person has been stereotyped and discriminated against,
or the more a person is exposed to materials such
as those collected here, the more sensitive that person
is going to be about such issues. Just because you don't
find something offensive doesn't mean it isn't harmful
to someone else.
We should all just relax and not worry about this stuff.
It's really no big deal.
|It would be nice if this
were true. Unfortunately, we will never stop talking
about race. Because of this, we must learn to talk about
race better than we do now. Ignoring racism,
pretending it doesn't exist is not the way to talk better