Sunday, April 21, 2013

Who Buys This Stuff and Why?

Savannah's tourist tchotckes tend to focus on pirate kitsch, shying away from all of the Lost Cause nonsense that seems Charleston's specialty. Still, we were in the south, so I should not have been surprised to see this.:
Something about the rolling pin seems threatening, reminding me of stereotypes from old Tom & Jerry cartoons for some reason, although I can't think of a specific episode.

I don't want to presume about anyone's taste (o.k., not much), but the churchgoers seem to be honestly aimed at African Americans. Maybe they gave me that impression because they resemble similar angels and Santa Clauses, both black and white, that appear in Hallmark-type shops or Hobby Lobbys. I think my grandmother had white versions of these sort of miniatures. If I'm guessing correctly, rather than just showing my own prejudice, then that seems rather an odd sort of display there in the bottom picture.

Who buys these "mammy" figures? I mean that honestly,  not rhetorically. What age are they? They must be white. Are they exclusively southern? What goes through their heads as they pick up the pitcher or the mug or the salt and pepper shakers, as they pay for it at the counter? Would the people selling or buying the souvenirs in the top photo be disturbed to learn that the shop is located in a building that once housed a slave market? Would that change their minds about buying and selling these items? Would they make a connection, or would they have a ready excuse that there is no connection, that this doesn't depict slavery, and that anyone who can't just see how "cute" they are is just trying to be angry? Do they even see a juxtaposition between this artifact of racism and the very real African Americans right outside the door, tourists just like themselves?


nicoleandmaggie said...

International tourists? I read a truly dreadful Tintin (in the Congo) when I was in Spain. Not available in the US, and after reading it, it was pretty obvious why I'd never seen it before.

Clio Bluestocking said...

nicoleandmaggie, I hadn't thought of that. That may be the case, although I'm not sure that makes it much better.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I'm shocked to see newly-manufactured goods of this sort. I knew the older ones were still sold and collected (by people with varying motives), so I guess it shouldn't surprise me to see "reproductions," but I'm still surprised (and a little shocked).

To add another to your list of questions: where are they being manufactured, and by whom? And if, as I suspect, they are manufactured abroad, how does this affect the workers' view of the U.S.? (I've always wondered what non-Christians manufacturing cheap Christmas ornaments for low wages end up thinking of Christians and Christianity. Can't be good, I fear).

Unknown said...

Maybe it's because I live in the northeast, but it came as a shock to me that these kind of items that perpetuate the "black mammy" stereotype still exist.

I guess *someone* must be buying them.

jo(e) said...

Maybe it's because I live in the northeast, but it came as a shock to me that these kind of items that perpetuate the "black mammy" stereotype still exist.

I guess *someone* must be buying them.

Feminist Avatar said...

I'm not sure international tourists are more likely than any other group. In Europe and Australia, 'mammy' figures, black minstrels and golliwogs were very popular in the past, but are generally considered to be highly racist today. You still see these figures in antique shops, but like CC, I assumed these were mainly items of historical curiousity.

Similarly, Tintin is known to be highly racist (also sexist, colonialist, fascist and with animal cruelty) in many issues. Most of it was published in the 1940s and 50s; Tintin in the Congo was published in 1946. There is ongoing debate about whether children should now be allowed to read them. Those who think they should be allowed to read them generally argue from the perspective that they are historical texts that provide opportunities for discussion, rather than offering an 'acceptable version' of reality. (Plus, plenty of other European children's classics aren't much better). Herge, the author of Tintin, even acknowledges that they are racist.

So, if international tourists are buying them, then it's not from some sort of naivety. These images have very similar cultural implications in Europe and its diaspora.

canvas prints said...

They are so cute. if only i could get some locally.


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