Racist Objects: A Painful Past Still Present

Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice

By Logan Jaffe
New York Times
October 6th, 2016

What’s to be gained from confronting the uncomfortable?

The video above is full of blatantly racist images and objects – old children’s books that infantilize African-Americans, vintage kitchenware that perpetuates white supremacy, T-shirts and bumper stickers that promote hate and violence.

They are hard to look at. But we can’t ignore the horrors of our racist past, because they influence our present.

The objects in the video can all be found at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, where David Pilgrim, the museum’s founder, uses them to help people contemplate the pervasiveness of racism. But there are many more out there, depicting African-Americans and other groups.

I shared my own experience with an object owned by my grandmother in this week’s Race/Related newsletter. Now we’re asking you for your stories and experiences with racist objects.

Why? Because we aim to create a meaningful conversation about race and racism.

Why are you asking me to share my experiences involving racist stuff?

This is the first part of a larger interactive project with The New York Times and POV that aims to examine how narratives about race are expressed, communicated and manipulated. We’re asking for your participation to help us understand how common racist objects really are, who has them, why, and to explore what impact they have on individuals and on society.

What will you do with my submission?

We promise to read every submission. We’ll contact a selection of participants for follow-up interviews. We hope to help some of you uncover the back stories to your objects. We also hope to connect you with others who have varied experiences with these objects so we can explore their impact together, with moderated online chats and future installments of this project.

But aren’t you just stirring up more racism and hate?

We know this is a difficult and painful subject. If you use these objects to promote hate, this project is not for you. Our intention is not to promote or champion the existence of these objects. Our goal is to create a respectful, engaging and thought-provoking space to facilitate honest, meaningful discussions about race and prejudice.

Back to David Pilgrim’s Author Page