Does this make you uncomfortable?

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  • Black girls
  • I spotted these figures in an antique shop called Galerie Etienne Thuriet in Chartres. I’m guessing there is a history behind the statues of the black women and their pose, but the owner of the store wasn’t exactly conversational so I wasn’t able to get any useful information about them. As I looked at the figures, their expressions, and their pose, I wondered who would buy them, and would the historical overtones of such a purchase occur to them at all?

    The figures make me uncomfortable, but I find myself wondering if this is racist, or does its status as an antique somehow divorce it from the ugly history I’m assuming it has? Even if there is no such ugly history here, does the fact it makes me uncomfortable mean that it’s racist today, and therefore something to be hidden away as an unfortunate relic, or even, as some might suggest, destroyed?

    I’m against destroying historical artefacts because we’re no longer comfortable with them. I think wiping history clean of its ugly moments robs us valuable opportunities to learn anything. Imagine the history that would be removed through time as different generations grapple with their discomfort of the past.

    I tried to find some history for these figures online, but my search drew a blank. If you know anything, please feel free to share your knowledge, links, or whatever in the comments.

    See the shop using Google street view.

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  • 2 comments on “Does this make you uncomfortable?

    1. I would not be inclined to buy these figures even if there was no “ugly history” attached to them. Would they have made you feel uncomfortable had they been blonde haired, blue eyed white ladies? Or brown haired, brown eyed olive skinned ladies? Or what if they were male figures? You can’t change history and sadly there has and always will be people of all creeds and colours who look that desperate, needy and resigned to their fate. That’s what make me uncomfortable.

      • That was kind of my point though right? The thing is, while I might be quick to judge these as racist, they might very well not be racist at all (it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve not understood the context), though without the history and backstory I see strange figures of bare breasted black women (presumably made for the home of wealthy white people) and it makes me feel uncomfortable. So for that reason alone, I wouldn’t buy them.

        I should point out, if they were white or olive skinned (a term I’ve never really understood because olives are green?) I also wouldn’t have bought them because honestly, I think they’re ugly ornaments! 🙂

        Now here’s the thing. My Mom & Dad have this ashtray holder that I really like. His name is ‘James’ and he’s been in my family since his creation in the 1920’s. He was my Mom’s play partner when she was a little girl, and he was mine too. Thing is, he’s made in the style of butler who happens to be black.

        A couple of years back I was in London and I saw MANY such ashtray/key holders in a vintage shop on Portobello Road. (Here’s a picture)

        These surely are racist right? But for me ‘James’ is like an old friend, and it was only as I grew up that I started to think that maybe what he represents isn’t that cool. However, one day I hope that James will be in my home. Hmm? Should I paint it white? I saw one back in Melbourne at a hipster shoe store that they had painted white and he was holding business cards. Hmm. Tricky really.

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