Library's Black History Month display raises hackles


Residents complained about a Black History Month display in West Texas library according to

The woman who made the display is quoted in the story as saying, "Some things I have do have exaggerated features, and to some they may appear to be demeaning and cruel," she said. "But to me, they have an altogether different meaning. The group of pickaninnies or native Africans does not reflect laziness, stupidity or ignorance; I see happiness and contentment."

I say ~Whoa!~


I'd like to view this exhibit to see for myself how pivotal a role the offensive representations play. Sometimes in the article I thought, "Are we just being overly politically correct?" and sometimes I thought, "Wow, that is offensive." It is black history month, and sometimes (many times) history isn't pretty. But as was wisely stated in the article, sometimes context is as important as content. Audience is important too: Is a third grader going to understand the exhibit as well as someone in their fifties? Was there any explanation or presentation on the items in this exhibit?

All that aside, who thought it was a good idea to put up an outside exhibit without taking a look at its content and presentation -- especially on something as personal as a race/ethnic background's history? That's just begging for trouble!

one of the biggest issues for me is that this exhibit was created by a white woman. it's very problematic to attempt to reclaim racist imagery when it's somebody else's race.

and that quote about contentment? hoo boy. after reading that, my eyebrows went so far up they slid off my forehead. the brownwood public library owes me some new eyebrows!

p.s. why was this article posted twice? (scroll down to rochelle's article and see what i mean.)

Here's my insensitive side coming out:> one of the biggest issues for me is that this exhibit was created by a white woman.I really love how race can be one-sided to be considered racist. So if an african-american (or native african) put together such a display, it would be okay? Probably less complaints, but would it be less offensive? If so, how could that be?We want/ask for unity and equality, but draw lines of who can talk about whom, especially when it comes to history. What a shame. My view (which is worth very little): we maintain racism by limiting the opportunity to discuss such issues to a single race. Why not let a 'white woman' display the way she viewed history and the treatment of african americans in US history?

So if an african-american (or native african) put together such a display, it would be okay?

Yes. Best I can do is to chalk it up to a sociological phenomenon of us v: them. Randall Kennedy documents in nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, that blacks can address each other as nigger and it is a sign of fraternity, but if a white uses the word it's a hate crime. Mind you, the blacks who object to whites using it while allowing blacks to do so are themselves bigots, at least, if not racists. In my not so humble opinion, at any rate.

Well, maybe I'm just too suburban grown. Neighbors and friends that are black would never, ever say the N word. On the other hand, they also allow open discussion on the topic of racism.I'm probably not a good litmus test.

I've been doing our black history exhibits for several years now and get tons of compliments on them each year. I'm also one of the relatively few white people at our mostly minority campus. If someone insisted only African-Americans could put together an exhibit, there might not have been one either time. I go to great efforts with this and all my exhibits to ensure I am representing history accurately and in an accessible manner. I love the fact that people constantly rearrange my book displays because they are browsing and reading what I put up.

After suffering through a graduate-level political science class that was obstensibly dealing with Native American history but was actually a 12 week argument about which people in the class were "really" Indian (which seemed to be the preferred term in that class), I can assure you that sharing racial characteristics does not ensure against offending others' sensibilities. For myself, being told I had no rights to any opinions whatsoever even as a student in the class and regardless of whether I agreed with others was quite distressing and will probably keep me from ever wanting to learn anything more about Native American history and politics ever again.

If you want people to learn about other cultures and minority history, constantly telling them they can't be involved in anything to do with it isn't a really effective approach. People who belong to the same racial group are quite capable of offending each other and people of differing ones can often do quite well at understanding the history of the others if they are empathetic by nature.

All that being said, the woman who set up this exhibit is at best a clueless nitwit and at worst a nasty racist. Who in their right mind uses a term like "pickaninnie" nowadays, even when describing an old knick-knack? The quote "The group of pickaninnies or native Africans does not reflect laziness, stupidity or ignorance; I see happiness and contentment." is mind-bogglingly appalling and requires a lack of social-consciousness that is beyond belief.

I can think of ways a display of old racist collectables could be educational--and while I'd be gritting my teeth and foaming at the mouth the whole time, I think I could actually put together such a display, despite my pale skin. (I can't imagine wanting to, but that is beside the point). I wonder if it was her personal collection--I'm sure the library doesn't own this stuff (at least, I'd sincerely hope it wouldn't).

Wow...While it may seem unfair to say that whites should not do Black History Month displays, just consider how Blacks are portrayed in the mainstream (read: white) media.After 400 years of being defined through the eyes other people, many Blacks want to define themselves.The "N" word can have a totally different meaning coming from a Black person to another Black person. A symbol of brotherhood. (I personally would not use that word but.....)The "N" word coming from a white person towards a Black person is rarely with good intentions.

I do the African Heritage Month (as it's called in these parts) display in my library every year and I'm white. However, we have no black staff members--although this year we do have an African Cdn student support worker, but he's not "on staff" as such. He travels between the schools in our area working with African Cdn and First Nations (Native Cdn) children. He also does some work in the classrooms with all the children.

I expanded my displays a bit this year; my main bulletin board has information on well known African Cdns and Americans from history, as well as bios on some current well known African Canadians. This year, I also did a "time line" using a couple of books that were available to me. I made sure the font was large enough that the children could read it easily. It starts on another one of my bulletin boards and goes across the wall. I also do book displays, using books from my library with additonal items from the public library.

The student support worker I mentioned earlier is often in my library--and he told me he was pleased, especially, to see the timeline on display. He liked that it was prominent--you can't miss it when you walk into the library proper. He also liked the variety of books I had on display. I've also noticed the children checking out the time line and most especially, reading/looking at the books.

I did my best (as a white woman) to have displays that were informative and interesting (and not offensive), not only to the children of colour in our school, but to anyone who happens to see them. I can only hope that it works.


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