Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is It Racist and Offensive or Simply Vintage Kitsch?



I was poking around some different blogs, and came across a heated debate where the blog owner bought, among other things, a mid-century "African Zulu" type statue. It had big red lips, a caricature of sorts, much like the image above. (I won't mention names or blogs as she was really inundated with comments, mostly negative, and has closed comments to that post, regardless).

Now while I skimmed the responses, it seems a lot of people took offense to the black statue she'd bought and planned to display in her home, calling it "racist and offensive".



The discussion continued, and the question was asked: Are all vintage black statues considered "racist"...?

What if the person collecting it was Black themselves? Would that make a difference?






Or what about the negative stereotype of the "lazy mexican" taking a siesta. This was brought up a few years ago when a restaurant depicted a man in a sombrero, taking a siesta, and people called it "racist".



Does this statue also become racist?








Is it sexist to show pin-up models of a silly blond without a clue, who only caters to men and doesn't ask any questions because women are only good as sex kittens without brains?


Or is this sexist because it shows women doing "men's work"...?





What about the Japanese stereotypes? The big grin, the broken English. Racist?


Is this also racist, or not, and why?







Would you instantly dislike someone if you knew they collect Nazi memorabilia?

What if their Grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. Would your opinion change?


Or photos of Nazi's. Would you leave someone's house who had a photo of a Nazi displayed?

What if you later found out it was Oskar Schindler? A man who saved many Jews?



I'm curious what your thoughts are about this subject. Should we get rid of all "offensive" vintage things, and never display them, or enjoy them as an item from a different time, no offense intended?
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41 comments:

  1. What an interesting post. I guess it depends on the spirit of the collection and the intent of the collector.

    I would say that the item should be viewed as an item from a different time, representing a different era. Some of those images and statues can be seen as being derogatory, but they are valuable evidence of our history.

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  2. What about baa baa black sheep?I think its all so silly the way people take things so out of context We all should take a note out of kids books they dont see race or colour they see people to be friends with,We never had this issue when I was a kid wish it was still like that.
    People that carry on about things like racsism etc are the ones who most like winge about everything coz thats the way they are.

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  3. I didn't even know some of these were offensive, such as the lazy mexican. I never heard of that stereotype. (maybe I'm too young). I suppose if your friends knew you collected vintage, they may not be so offended. But if these are strangers or new people coming to your house, they might wonder why you have some of these. I might wonder why someone would display a Nazi flag. I'd prefer they display the American flag! If they display them, why not include a little sign or placard of some sort to explain it to people who are perusing your collectibles.

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  4. i think people are too sensitive these days and will raise a stink about anything. like it or not, these things are a part of american culture and that is just the way things were back then. its as ridiculous as the whole "huck finn" debate where they censored a classic work of literature and took out certain words, despite the fact that the author was not being racist and had quite the opposite intention. when i watch "sanford and son" and he makes fun of white people i don't get offended. it's funny!
    i get all worked up about this subject and could go on and on, but i don't want to take over your page!

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  5. Oh Jesus... This brings to mind a musical number from "Avenue Q" entitled "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". (look it up on youtube) I think we we have to take these items with a grain of salt, I mean take for example an cement icon missing from you line up. The infamous "Lawn Jockey" that statue fits right in with the with the snoozing mexican, and the "darkie" fishing boy. NO matter how you try to word it, there will always be someone there who will say "thats offensive" or stir up dust. we all need to keep in mind that they are more than lamps and lawn ornements they are rminders of the past, where we are and where we've been.

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  6. I like that Green Tennis Pin-up!! but I don't particularly find it sexist... That just happened to be the mindset of the era. Women went along with it and men went along with it until the women decided to stand up for more what they wanted to do and Viva la revolution! but anyways, I don't find it sexist I find it cute and in fact, my girlfriend and I just bought a pin-up poster at an antique shop because she really liked it.

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  7. I wanted to buy a Mamie cookie jar I saw at an antique mall, but didnt b/c Im afraid people would get the wrong impression. Which is sad b/c I honestly just like them & consider it cute. I think its just part of being southern? Gone with the windish? lol I see literally dozens of the salt & pepper sets a EVERY antique mall I go to. Someone is collecting this stuff b/c it doesn't sell for cheap!

    I also noticed the chalkware lamps that are arabian/african dancers are very expensive & highly collected.

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  8. My personal feeling is that none of the items is racist on their own, nor is collecting/owning them. They only become racist by a human's beliefs and actions. I also don't see the fuss about collecting Nazi items as historical artifacts. I might think you have a screw loose if you collect new reproductions because you idolize Hitler though. Of course I've never been accused of being PC. And I will never see a Mamie cookie jar as racist. When I was young I had a Mamie rag doll. Did it make me think less of black people? NO! It made me think they all must be wonderful people and wish I had a black grandma. It was a bit of a disappointment when I got a little older and figured out that all people are the same and the bad apples come in all colors.

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  9. What an interesting post. I am not an easily offended person, so no I am not offended by the sleeping Mexican. I like to sleep! Infact, I think I'll go have a nap. JK! :) Okay seriously, I too think that many people are overly sensitive these days. I just go by what the people in my life think, anyway. If my black cousins and friends are not offended that I love all the mamie kitchen collectibles, then that is good enough for me.

    Just my two cents.

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  10. I don't see these things as racist at all. I too think the sensitivity is off the charts. I have these type items and love them. I think they're beautiful. And, you all know, I have all my Fiesta and Mexican in my house with the guy under the big sombrero, too. It's nothing to do with being lazy, they did take siestas, and many still do! I wish we'd adopt that tradition!

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  11. Little figurines or pictures, racist? Hmmm, no. Some people will find these racist, but these are the people who will pick at everything. The Nazi stuff, that's more touchy. If you're a Nazi, not okay, if it's from a historical point of view, or if you or your relatives are survivors, it's different.

    It's true about children not having prejudice. I had a black baby doll as a child and she was just as special as all my other baby dolls. In fact, I still have her!

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  12. I don't think owning these items makes you a racist. How you treat other people determines that fact. I collect vintage 50's Asian stuff, and I've never thought twice about it. It was historically appropriate/acceptable at the time it was produced, and I collect vintage - period. I've always had a love for Asian culture, due to my exposure as a child, but I know that these items aren't truthful representations of the culture. I think it's all in fun.

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  13. I had a large-ish collection of Black memorabilia back in the States. A Black gal that I worked with was completely offended. she said I was a racist. did I care? Heck no becasue I know I am not. These things were passed down to me from my grandmother and mother and they were not racists either.

    I make it a practise to spend as little time as possible thinking about what folks think of me and my actions. I have better things to do with my days.

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  14. I think society has become all too PC so as to not offend anyone. The items in question are from a different era depicting a different time/mindset... call it what you will. Does collecting items from the 50's mean that you are a misogynist or sexist because of the times? Pffft. People too easily balk at anything these days for fear of being labeled as sexist, racist, ageist, et al.

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  15. Morning an interesting post. I don't see these items as racist there a part of our history its the same as photo's from different time periods depicting images of different cultures. I think it becames racist if you belong to some cult and only collect to make a point and course trouble. dee x

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  16. I know the blog discussion you have mentioned, very interesting indeed and I felt sorry for the blog owner.
    I personally didn't perceive it as racist though I do admit I might be just insensitive to it.

    Nazi memorabilia is different. Very touchy subject. Yes I would leave the house and I would not stay in contact. I believe no descendant of a holocaust survivor collects Nazi memorabilia. I can see where you are coming from - I would recognise Oskar Schindler and I would find it very odd if he'd be place amongst a display of Swastikas. If I'd see a shrine around i.e. Heinrich Himmler - I'd run and never talk to the person again.

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  17. I think it all comes down to what you'd be willing to have in your home...if them image makes you feel uncomfortable, than you shouldn't have it. Personally I'd feel very uncomfortable with some of those items on display in my home. Also, I think you could make the argument that some things were created with a spirit of racism, such as black sambo type of art---it's obvious they were making fun of African Americans and personally it makes me uncomfortable. However they should be kept (by someone else, not me, lol) for the purposes of education and never forgetting how far we've come.

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  18. Very interesting post!! Hmmm personally I don't find the items above offensive, other than the nazi items.. I'm far from a racist, I grew up with friends in every color, and also had sweethearts in all different colors. I love every nation and country in the world and think that we're all quite the same. There's good and bad people everywhere, no exception.

    I think black americana vintage items and such is a part of the american history, just as much as any other vintage items from the states.. I like them and I find them cute and beautiful, just like the african americans! People are to screamish these days, you ask me.. Many, many things can be looked at as offensive, if you want to. Like mentioned above, I think it depends on the owner of the items.. And the eyes of the viewer:) Some find things offensive, that others don't!

    I watched Travel Chanel the other day, from a african american neighbourhood in LA. They had a vintage store full of black americana vintage items right there! Veird that they're there, if people find it offensive..?

    Luckely I live in Norway, here this isn't a big problem..

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  19. I think it's wonderful that so many of you have an open mind about this!


    It was surprising on the other blog to see how many people were upset that the blog owner was being racist by displaying a vintage item!!

    Mom made several "Mammy" black cloth dolls. A few male one's too. But she did it out of love. Nothing racist in her heart at all.

    She worked for the US Government back in the late 40's, and she told me, it was the other white women she worked with who were 'catty' and gossipy. The black folks she worked with were intelligent wonderful people, and she had many friends in them.

    My friend is the son of Holocaust survivors. His adorable Mom is still alive, and we often do 3-way phone calls, where he jokes about the Holocaust sometimes.

    She herself said, the one's who maintained a sense of humor, were the one's who tended to survive. They joked in the camps about who was the thinnest, things like that.

    And I agree, if you look to be "offended", you will be.

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  20. I saw that post and a couple of others by people discussing it. It really made me think actually as no I don't find them offensive but then they aren't aimed at my race. Oh I don't know, I know there are some things I see and think mmm I don't think I'd have that in my house, but then I collect oriental stuff and in my living room I have many figures and lamps, it's made me question it all but I don't want to get rid of it.

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  21. Politically Correctness is one of the worst things this country is doing. Period. Why not, instead of figuring out how to label groups with an agreed upon term (which can still be offensive), we all just try being polite? Everybody is different. Who cares? Just use your common sense...if it seems like something you shouldn't say (or display) keep it to yourself.

    Thanks for the mildly irritating, yet thought provoking post!

    Stephanie
    http://stephanieeverswrites.blogspot.com/

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  22. When I was around 13-14 years of age, there was a local artist who came and checked out all of the more talented art students' artwork.

    Because one of the drawings I did was of a snake, she told me it was very "phallic", and that I didn't know what that meant.

    I DID know exactly what that meant, and knew it had everything to do with her interpretation, and NOT mine lolll....

    Oh, these days she would have been questioned for talking about inappropriate sexual topics with a 13 year old ha ha. I didn't care, she was wrong and projecting her own thoughts onto the artwork. I knew that back then. ;)

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  23. I saw a black lawn jockey just the other day... next to somebody's front walk. I don't know that there's ever a place for those in this day and age -- but I also suspect the owners of the lawn jockey were well past retirement age, had had it for years, and simply never gave it a thought. (Of course, it could have just as easily belonged to a Grand Wizard.)

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  24. Items in of themselves aren't racist. It's the views that people put upon them that make them racist.

    Destroying and hiding history only makes it easier to repeat. To hide what happened in the past diminishes the struggles of the people that had to endure it. Society progresses when you can compare the present to the past. I say display it and start discussions about the past, how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

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  25. Funnily enough there was a collector of black memorabilia on Antiques Roadshow a couple of years ago. I've got a feeling the collector was black because I remember wondering if a white person would be called racist for collecting the same things (I don't think they should). I think it was also brought up by the presenter and 'decided' that they shouldn't because they were historical artifacts.

    The idea that something is only ok if you are part of that 'minority' maddens me though. There was an Australian comedian years ago who told disabled jokes. The jokes were all the ones you've heard before and nothing special but people would laugh like he was amazing. The comedian himself was disabled and it was like the audience were given permission to laugh.

    As for nazi stuff, I remember reading about how everything was carefully designed to be impressive and further their propaganda. Let's face it, the uniforms looked dead smart - but that doesn't mean I agree with their ideology.

    But I digress...
    I think the concept of racism has changed over the years and seems to have become the evil of all evils. People look different and have different beliefs - FACT. It's bigotry you gotta watch out for.

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  26. It's so refreshing to see some sensible comments here after the abusive tirades that were posted on the blog you mentioned.

    I too think that it's not the items themselves but the context you put them in that determines whether or not something is racist - these items are relics of a past era that cannot be swept under the carpet and should not be censored, they have just as much place in a vintage collector's home as any other historical artefact.

    As long as we know the history behind them, have respect for it and ensure that all races have equal rights in the present and future, there's no harm in keeping these items in the privacy of your own home.

    A number of my relatives were slaughtered in the holocaust. I wouldn't be offended if someone collected Nazi paphernalia as part of an interest in wartime history, but I would be offended if they collected it because their beliefs were concurrent with the tenets of National Socialism.

    What I did find offensive was the opinion of some of the commenters, which essentially boiled down to a view that no white person should be allowed an opinion on racism.

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  27. I'm Mexican American and am fascinated by the Lazy Mexican motif and collect anything I can get my hands on. Mexico was a major tourist destination and hot spot during the 1920's throughout the 1960's...Liz Taylor and Richard Burton for instance, had a lovely home in Puerto Vallarta. Anyway, I do not find these items racist at all but find them nostalgic and remind me of a time when things seemed a little simpler.

    Thanks!

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  28. People are racist, not objects.

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  29. I agree with the majority here. As a white male, is anyone more put down then us on 50's sit coms, and nearly every TV commercial featuring a man and a woman? Did white men protest the movie title: "White Men Can't Jump"? I am also Catholic, people used to call us Mackerel Snappers--I would probably just laugh at that now. Everyone needs to lighten up. Just curious were most of the anti folks from the Bay area? Where they outlaw EVERYTHING.

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  30. Thought provoking post. I have had this discussion often with my kids, as they have bone to antique store with me since they were little and are often surprised to know it was once popular to have things in your home they believe are racially insensitive. BUT you can't rewrite history, this is part of our culture and most people who buy it to keep are doing so because of a love of a time, a kind of art (albeit kitschy)to get put out by it misses the point.

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  31. Lots of black people collect black memorabilia--it's valuable! I tagged along with my husband to a gun show once and was amazed to see the huge amount of expensive Nazi memorabilia for sale. Between seeing that and noting the number of rednecks walking around with rifles slung over their shoulders, it was the first and last gun show for me! People get offended for lots of reasons and we can't try to placate everyone.

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  32. Nice article, thanks for the information.

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  33. To the person who asked if these anti folks were from the Bay Area...Please don't generalize! I'm born and raised in San Francisco proper...Love the Lazy Mexican motif!! I don't find it racist at all. My friend is of Samoan heritage...she collects ANYTHING with slanted yes! HA!

    Thanks.

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  34. I think I'm probably one of the most "politically incorrect" people you are going to meet on here. I say "Oh well...it is what it is." Regardless of now many activist, liberals and members of the ACLU try to change things, history is history, and nothing can be done to change it because it's already happened. It's sad that kids, today, up to college age, are being taught how to be politically correct by their politically correct, liberal teachers and instructors. Now, we have a generation of sensitive people that don't know where to step because they are afraid that they will crush some egg shells, so to speak. Yes, it's almost certain that "Black Americana" figurines and dolls will never be produced again, but what was produced in the past is part of American history, no matter how anyone wants to perceive it.

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  35. Just because one didn't intend something to be racist doesn't mean it's not. Sometimes perfectly nice people say or do something racist; it doesn't necessarily make them a racist. And just because (for example) someone who is a member of the group being depicted says they personally don't find it racist/sexist/etc doesn't mean it isn't either. I find that the "you're just being politically correct, stop being so sensitive" remarks are designed to shut down any kind of critical discussion of objects like the ones above. Yeah, pinups like the one above are objectifying. Some of the figurines of black people do depict ugly caricatures which dehumanise. The defensive reaction of some people only indicates how utterly pervasive these ideas still are in our society. Go ahead and display such objects, but don't be surprised if people do take offence. And if you're a nice white lady who decides to display a "blackamoor" caricature figurine then think yourself lucky that you only have to deal with thinking about this in your life a little bit, whereas a black person has to deal with racist things and institutionalized racism every minute of their life.

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  36. I have to say, I fail to see the "racism" in Blackamoor statues (pictured in the second photo). In fact, they seem to depict black people the same as most other non-characature statues of any race.

    We are all discriminated against, one way or another. I don't think any race holds the corner on that market. And if you spend your life walking around feeling discriminated against, you will find examples if it, in places it never existed. =)

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  37. i agree with most people on here: all these different types of memorabilia are a part of our past and sure, maybe they're a tad un-PC but we need to be able to look at ourselves in jest too. i love mammy dolls and i certainly am not racist. i would hope that just because i come from irish-mexican ancestry a black person would think any less of me, just as if i found a lazy mexican statue in theirs i certainly would not think any less of them. there are of course, limitations to that. if it said "F wet backs" i probably wouldn't like that too much. i think people take themselves too seriously. we are all different: whether that be your hair color, skin color, or ethnicity and we all need to lighten up a little. and i agree - it is okay to laugh at eachother's "flaws" it's what makes us unique from eachother!

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  38. I am one of those big city liberals and I don't find anything wrong with collecting and remembering history. It seems the people blaming "political correctness" are the ones that really believe in the stereotypes and are angry it's frowned upon to use them anymore. Liberals don't want to forget, destroy and change history. We want to change the future. On the other hand I surely don't want a conservative like Michelle Bachman teaching any classes in history. Kindness, empathy and understanding should not be only described as "politically correct". The reason why city people are liberals is because they are around different cultures all day long and they realize that everyone is the same. In a monocultural society differences become caricatures because they have no one to personally compare them to.

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  39. I'm just catching up on my google reader and I saw this post. I blogged about the topic too (prompted by the same thing), and it's interesting to see people's varying views. Personally I'm of the opinion that vintage kitsch is vintage kitsch, and I don't find the imagery offensive because it's a product of its time (though if the same items were to be produced today it would be a different matter, certainly), much in the same way as I find these cringeingly sexist vintage ads hilarious rather than offensive - because that's how far society has come, that these can now be seen as ridiculous to the point of farce, and definitely not normal.

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny Vintage

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  40. I think that the collecting of those things in the present moment, by a collector who is aware of the troubled-politics inside those images and symbols, is an obviously-ironic practice. The irony of it represents to me, anyway, a reaction against the racism. We are mocking the mockery, it seems.

    Of course, I would say anything to justify my beloved vintage Gypsy collection. :-)

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  41. I think that vintage items like these definitely pointed out stereotypes, and therefore, had an air of discrimination. I think it's really silly to pull the 'stop being so PC' card on this and deny what images and symbols these collectibles CAN portray, depending on your background. Just because it's not racist to you, doesn't mean it isn't racist, and it's important to respect that...

    But at the same time, I think items like these also show the fascination of other cultures in that era, which makes them so collectible. It's a different time period. Things were VERY different, people thought differently, and depicted things differently. I think it's THAT that makes these items so collectible. It's useless to defend the thoughts of people in that era, because honestly, I really don't think any of us that didn't actually live it, can truly know how people felt. ESPECIALLY those of different backgrounds. It's easy now to say 'let's have a sense of humor about it!'...but that's NOW. Would you think the same if you were being discriminated against then? Have a little humor about it? Probably not.
    I'm getting a little off of it but people of different backgrounds collected these items even then, but I think again that is was the fascination and beauty of their own or another culture that they bought the items...

    I don't think they should be avoided for the possible negative reasons they were created, but rather as another person mentioned, we shouldn't deny the past and pretend it didn't happen, and instead find the fascination with that era in general and the way people thought and what interested them and LEARN from it. The history is part of what makes it so much fun to collect!

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