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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Start

How Racism Shows Up In Reuse: Racist Objects - Part 1

Early in my work at a creative reuse center, I walked through the volunteer work area and was shocked to find embroideries of racist depictions of Black women that went back to minstrel shows and the Jim Crow era. It then made sense that a Black volunteer was not as engaged as usual that day (and never came back to volunteer).

Racist depiction of Asian person

Racist objects or racist memorabilia often show up in donation boxes or consignments for resale. They show up in the form of figurines, sheet music, magazines, and greeting cards, to name just a few. Generally the result of a cleanout or a loved one passing away. Most items are vintage, but newer items can also be racist or objectify cultural and racial identities through costumes and mascots.

Regardless of where it came from, there is no place for racist objects in the profits of reuse, resale, or consignment.

“These are things that we need to keep to remember this country’s racist history. They are worth a lot of money,” was the response of the person who put the racist items in the volunteer area. Although those statements were true, nonprofits and businesses specializing in reused materials are not museums and should not profit from the trauma and pain those objects cause.

Sales and promotion of racist objects and memorabilia create an unwelcoming and unsafe environment, especially for BIPOC staff, volunteers, and patrons. These items perpetuate racism and continue to embed it into Western culture.

It is not always easy to identify these items or to know what to do with them. Here are some strategies to deal with racist objects or memorabilia:

  • Educate yourself, employees, and volunteers on what racist objects are

  • Make a policy or plan to handle racist items that are offered/donated

  • Do not profit or fund your mission with racist objects

  • Go with your gut, if it doesn’t feel right don’t sell it

  • Determine if the items depict a group of people in a negative or caricature-like way

  • Be on the lookout for racist words, ads, or references in paper ephemera like sheet music or vintage magazines

  • Take a virtual tour of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,

Read more about racist objects:

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