In a week where the number of COVD-19 cases worldwide passed the 10 million mark, a number of conservative Christians in America have spoken out about the wearing of masks. At a well publicised meeting in Florida a woman called Sylvia Ball claimed that “they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door.” Another denounced city officials for their science based approach, accusing them of being “arrogant” for trying to regulate her breathing. “Where do you derive the authority to regulate human breathing?” she asked, after quoting from the Bible.
Meanwhile in Australia shoppers would have noticed a considerable shortage of toilet paper, Redskins and Chicos on their supermarket shelves. With the spike in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, the hoarders have returned to stock up their doomsday bunkers with dunny paper. The absence of Allen’s Redskin and Chico lollies is another story.
On the back of the Black Lives Matter movement, and increased sensitivity about racism, Nestle have pulled the plug on the production of these two brands stating, “These names have overtones which are out of step with Nestlé’s values, which are rooted in respect. While new names have not yet been finalised, we will move quickly to change these names.”
Some shoppers, perhaps consumed with nostalgia, have rushed in to buy up the remaining stock and you would be hard pressed to find a packet of the sickly sugary chews in Coles or Woolies today. Predictably Pauline Hanson and other conservative commentators have expressed their shock and horror, labelling the decision as “pathetic”, and a surrender to the hysterical demands of the left. Not surprisingly there was a similar reaction from the hard right when ‘Nigger Boy’ liquorice bags were withdrawn from agricultural shows across Australia in the late 1960s. Their advertising hook at the time was “Ten Little Niggers Boys – Don’t say Liquorice, say Nigger Boy!”
The pandemic has certainly caused a lot of people to stop and ponder many of the ills of today’s world, although who knows what new evil the economic recovery will deliver. It’s a good time for a clear out of racist baggage (statues included) but the questions remains should we also preserve the sins of history for future generations to observe?
In America the Jim Crow Museum Of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan houses the largest publicly accessible archive of racist material in the country, with over 4,000 everyday objects ranging from KKK paraphernalia to novelty items like ashtrays, figurines and postcards that caricature African Americans.
A passionate critic of racism Whoopi Goldberg has assembled a collection of Black Americana which she labels “Negrobilia”. She is emphatic that these items need to be preserved and discussed within their historical context. Similarly in her introduction to a DVD collection of Looney Tunes cartoons in 2008 with a number of racial caricatures, she points out that that some of the cartoons contain, by present day standards, offensive racial and ethnic stereotypes, but that leaving them out would be denying history.
In his book Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, And Bucks, Afro-American cinema historian Donald Bogle argues that whilst Black movie stars such as Stepin Fetchit were often derided as actors who disgraced their own race with their gross caricatures, they were also great performers whose artistry should not be overlooked.
The Black Lives Matter movement has provoked a real shake up of what might be seen as the vestiges of racism in popular culture, like Netflix canning Chris Lilley for his black face portrayals. Some will see it as an overreaction, others as the kind of spring cleaning needed if we are ever to achieve racial equality.
These days we look back on toys such as Gollywogs and entertainment like the Black & White Minstrel Show, which ran for some 20 years on BBC TV from 1958 to 1978, with a mixture of both disdain and a curiosity for the perverse side of kitsch. They were seldom viewed as racist during their heyday but today we know better. It’s important though that they are not swept under the carpet of history and like many of the iniquities of the past are preserved to remind us that these days we can do a lot better. As for Chicos and Redskins, I don’t really care if they rebrand them in the future. For me they always tasted like crap and Pauline Hanson is welcome to as many as she can suck on!