That Good Ol’ Everyday Racism

I was sorting my mail tonight, and came across a catalog full of cheap tacky stuff. The catalog was clearly aimed at white people. Every model in the catalog appeared to be a nonthreatening middle-class white woman, and besides, who else would buy this stuff besides white people?

There are problems with manufacturing cheap stuff than nobody needs. & LIGHTING DIMMERS, APPLIANCE CONTROL. LIGHT BULBS, LIGHT FIXTURES, ETC. from Smarthome The production of this garbage harms workers who are exposed to toxic materials and toxic wages, and there are costs to the environment.

But there are other problems. That catalog contained this:


Cactus Planter Couple

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, white people owning figurines of people we* committed genocide against should make your stomach heave. The very idea of owning resin Native Americans should make you feel extremely hot and as though the room was spinning.

In case you didn’t notice it, there’s a problem with the representation of sexuality in these figures**. The context here involves making “jokes” about people of color. White people have treated people of color as less than human, and we’ve tried to control their sexuality as well. Women of color are usually represented as having high sex drives and willingly having sex with anyone. These supposed traits make them fair game for white men in America, and frankly, I can’t bring myself to imagine what the cacti as breasts really represent. No, it isn’t just harmless fun. Men of color are either demonized as a threat to all white women due to their raging, animalistic*** sexuality, or they’re mocked as impotent. This planter encourages people to keep that tradition alive.

One final thing: when you see racist items like these cactus planters displayed in a friend’s or relative’s home, or when they’re for sale in a store or online, PLEASE SPEAK UP. Lots of white Americans think there’s no problem with items like these. Maybe you see things like this and you cringe inwardly, but you don’t speak up. You don’t want to hurt your aunt’s feelings, or your best friend is “just like that”. That’s no excuse.

How far does someone have to go before you speak out?

UPDATE: Contact information for this company
By Mail:
Collections Etc.
Customer Service
P.O. Box 7985
Elk Grove Village, IL 60009-7985

By Phone: 1-620-584-8000
7 days a week, 6 AM – Midnight CST

By email: Use their form

Thanks for the suggestion, AD!

*Yes, I’m aware that you’ve only been alive for the last _____ years. Get over it, and get busy reading some books.
**Think a cactus for a penis is the funniest thing ever? Great! Please, put a large cactus down your pants. Be sure to take a picture of your wounds, and send it to me, because I need a laugh.
***Word deliberately chosen to reflect standard treatment of people of color.

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52 responses to “That Good Ol’ Everyday Racism

  1. Oh it’s disgusting on so many levels. And the tragedy is, most people will not see what you see. I have endless arguments with people about just this sort of racism. I once had an argument at my daughter’s school because the teacher was using the sentence: “the swarthy natives were swarming all over the boat.” while talking about sentence structure. All the children had copied this into their workbooks!! I was aghast. She couldn’t comprehend my argument and just kept saying that the sentence didn’t make sense if it didn’t reference “swarthy natives” and “swarming”. I complained loudly but got nowhere. Lack of success doesn’t stop me mouthing off though!

  2. I think in the UK this would be so obviously racist and therefore illegal that it would fall at the first fence of the Advertising Standards Agency. I hope.
    But to fall at that fence it would need someone to complain. Hopefully.

  3. RenegadeEvolution

    those are just…ugh. eww. people can be such…ugh.

  4. Oh wow. That’s just so over the top. I wonder if the person who designed those figurines has an extensive collection of DVDs of people performing in black-face too? Like Pippa said, disgusting on so many levels.

  5. Hey do you have the name/contact info of the makers of these? We could do a little letter writing you know… 🙂

  6. Thanks for the suggesting that, AD! Post now updated with contact information.

  7. What political correctness you people possess! What is wrong with the figurines you ask? Sweet Fanny Adams! If you feel Fanny is misogenistic please substitute Fred for Fanny.
    Until the “evil” discrimination was pointed out I simply saw the figurines as an example of how bad some people’s taste in “art” can be. I find it rather kinky that you glomed onto placement of the cacti as being representative of breasts and genitalia. Is there something “dirty about people’s primary gender indicators? If you want to get hot and moist about discrimination pick something real like the racism the Janjaweed show by unloading their AK47s into the people of Darfar.

    What is the problem with “swarthy”? If the people referenced were dark what is wrong about identifying them as such? IS Pippa inferring that she doesn’t see identifiable characteristics of people? If she is she’s a hypocrite. She certainly appears to be able to discriminate between people on the basis of the words they use. Perhaps she would prefer the PC phrase “local residents of no specific gender or identifying characteristics”? “Swarm” in the context referenced means “crowd”. What is the problem with using such a word? Perhaps her daughter has a severely limited vocabulary?
    Sally, I’m so happy to read that the UK is so pure. From what I’ve been seeing on the news I thought it was totally populated by punch-up happy lager-louts who need watched on CCTV by the authorities at all times.

    If you people didn’t take yourselves so serious you’d be funny. You see misanthropy lurking everywhere and in everything. If you really want to see the evil in people a mirror might be a good place to start!

  8. Oh, cav!
    I recommend getting to the hospital soon, as you are suffering from a toxic dose of white privilege. The world is the way that *you* see it, racism is a thing of the past, and the way white people portray people of color is meaningless.

    If you want to get hot and moist about discrimination

    Seems your problems aren’t limited to white privilege. Do not drive yourself to the hospital–you’re far too sick. Call 911 NOW!

    If you disagree with me, that’s fine. But if you leave another hateful comment like this one, you will be banned. I’m leaving this comment up for now as a reminder of what we’re up against. Thanks for giving the perfect example.

  9. Those statues are fucked up…

  10. Does this mean that one can’t have figurines of any particular group of people nowadays?

    They seem pretty light-hearted to me.

    I mean, over here (UK) you can buy ginger wigs to make fun of Scottish people – for sale everywhere in Scotland.

    There are surely worse things going on in the world to worry about!

  11. You know, Philip, there’s always something worse going on. That doesn’t mean we should ignore other things. For instance, if I had skipped writing this post, I wouldn’t have been able to end police brutality instead of writing a post. Simple figurines reflect attitudes towards oppressed groups, and those attitudes matter.

    As far as “more important things” goes, it’s strange how each group defines that differently. For far too long now, white people have believed that the needs of white people are what matters.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the majority of Scottish people white? White people can make fun of each other as much as they want.

  12. And we’re off!

    Thanks so much SE, great post! I didn’t get the cactus thing until you pointed it out.

    For the naysayers, this is one very important aspect of racism that we need to be talking about. Can you identify a First Nations person whom you don’t know? I couldn’t. I’ve been realizing since the International Women’s Day Conference I attended that I am surrounded by native people here in New Mexico, but I had been reading them either as Caucasian if they were light-skinned, or Latino if darker-skinned. After a day of lectures by and interactions with native women, I can now see native people AS native. As a lesbian, I know how important visibility is for liberation, and how frequently those of us who don’t “fit” are made invisible and represented by stereotypes and tokens. If white people think native people look like these statues, we’ll never see the very real native people all around us and learn to take their political interests and demands seriously. This is kind of the human equivalent of killing off the animal life and then putting a statue of a deer on your lawn or a resin black bear cub climbing up the side of your house. It turns other inhabitants of the earth, with legitimate rights to sovereignty and self-determination, into cute little nonthreatening plastic objects for white people to admire. It’s sickening.

  13. Thanks Amy! I’ve had my fill of “this doesn’t matter” comments from white folks.

  14. The ginger wigs that Philip refers to above, are a laugh – a mass of ginger fake hair under an outsized tartan ‘bonnet’ (flat cap with a pompom on top) and, the point is, they are worn by Scottish people to take the piss out of themselves, such as by the Scottish rugby team supporters at matches. Those figurines are not marketed to the people they are ridiculing. Read and learn Philip. And don’t link my page from yours without asking first. Right !?!

  15. Ah, the old “surely there are worse things to worry about”! Like, oh, other people’s blog posts? Bwahaaa.

    Surely there are many, way too many, things to worry about and not enough time in the day to di it.

    I did not immediately see it – at first glance I thought it looked as if the woman were carrying cactii – and the man? Um, a basket. Like I said, it was a glance!

    Love how it’s categorized under Decorating Themes / Southwest. I had no idea Arizona was one big Spencer’s Gifts!

  16. Sally-Thanks for explaining them. What a difference the target makes. Scottish people laughing at themselves is very different than what’s going on here.

    Manxome-

    “Ah, the old “surely there are worse things to worry about”! Like, oh, other people’s blog posts? Bwahaaa.”

    LOL! That’s a great point.

  17. To the people who say “white folks” – that is the sort of racism you are arguing against.

    Who’s the racist now!

  18. Sally, link taken off my site.

    There are plenty of other blogs there for people to read.

  19. “The ginger wigs that Philip refers to above, are a laugh – a mass of ginger fake hair under an outsized tartan ‘bonnet’ (flat cap with a pompom on top) and, the point is, they are worn by Scottish people to take the piss out of themselves….”

    That’s why they are sold at tourist shops then.

    Time to leave this thread, some people can’t listen to other opinions!

  20. Hello SE,

    I am new to your blog and now regular visitor and reader….I just wanted to say hi and let you know how I came across to your site…I was searching for depression and self help blogs and now I am here…I loved your bunny pics is that she/he…..so cute…

    Health Watch Center

  21. Bye, Philip! *waves*

    Oh, spotted elephant. First you post a Bumble-filled Monday Manifesto for Bunny Care, and now you post this everyday racism post that’s very on point. Mmmhmm. You want me to link you, don’t you?! ‘Cause I’m so gonna! And you can’t do anything about it!!

    I looked at those figurines, and the first thing I wondered was “why is that man holding his pants open like OH MY GOD WHAT THE–” Great ideas from you and Aradhana posting contact information.

  22. Pingback: Rocketblog « The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum

  23. Thanks for the contact info SE, email sent!

  24. Damn! I swear SE—you can’t make this shit up. And who in the holy hell thought these figurines would be a good idea?

    Oh no, there ain’t enough time in the day nor enough creative minds in the world to make this shit up. And white folks STILL wonder why we’re angry?

  25. If you don’t want to write your own letter – you can copy and paste mine into the contact form:

    The cactus planter couple holders from your catalogue are extremely damanging to the representation of indigeneous populations.

    Far from being humorous they rely on archaic and outdated stereotypes of indigeneous peoples as being hypersexual and animalistic.

    The primary consumers of your goods are white, the person who designed this product was probably white, the main people with money in this world are white. Do you see the connection? This product is only humorous because of it’s reliance on putting people who are not white “down”.

    It is in your best interest to remove such racist products from your line.

  26. Sylvia-I’d been debating about how to reply to Philip-whether I should try to explain, or just blow him out of the water. But when I saw your elegant goodbye, I just knew that was the way to go.

    Thanks for the link!

    AD-Thanks again for suggesting I add the contact info, and a big thank you for sharing your message so people can cut-and-paste if they wish. I’m sure many more messages get sent that way.

    Yolanda-I keep wondering that too. Even if a few people thought this was funny, wasn’t there a rational person anywhere in that company? Anyone, from the designer to whoever approved it (I don’t know company hierarchy stuff), there had to be at least one person who objected, right?

    Maybe one (or more) people DID object, but the others ignored them.

  27. np SE!

    I don’t think anyone objected SE, stuff like this is ‘racism of the everyday’… just like all advertising resembles soft porn. Add a naked woman of any color and voila – sell your products.

    No one in mngt cares, especially when things like this seem ‘kitschy’ and are so cheapily produced.

  28. “D-uh, I don’t think cactus breasts on a Native woman are racialized sexual innuendo because I didn’t notice at first“.

    What an enormous nose he must have, to be able to hide 400 years of genocide underneath it.

  29. Here’s what I sent (it’s wordy and long, as is my way):

    While browsing through your catalog items, I came across a rather disturbing pair of cactus planters your company advertised. The figurines were designed to resemble indigenous Americans, and the female figurine had two round cacti near her chest, as if to simulate breasts. The male figurine held his pants open to support a phallic-shaped cactus plant.

    I have noticed a disturbing trend in consumerism to hypersexualize and to ridicule minority populations through similar types of products and marketing. These figurines are particularly demeaning because it makes caricatures out of indigenous American people, transforming them into a functional object. Never mind the painful history of indigenous Americans; these figurines reduce them to nothing more than beings who bear plants. It’s degrading.

    The planters then add insult to injury by crudely hypersexualizing those caricatures. I sincerely question the reason of anyone who would proudly display such figurines in a home, and I question the morality of a company that would sell a line of products with blatantly racist and crude imagery as if such portrayals should be commonplace.

    As more minority populations are wielding ever-increasing spending power in the American marketplace, I’d advise your company to hold a microscope to its products and to make sure you don’t alienate large bases of potential buyers to support disgracefully racist and sexist figurines.

  30. AD-You’re right. I just keep having that irrational hope that someone would see it. 😦

    Rainbow Girl-The blinkers would be impressive if they weren’t so destructive. I don’t know why I keep having irrational hope about people.

    Sylvia-It’s eloquent, as is your way! Thanks for sharing what you wrote. I have a hard time toning down my anger in protest letters, and it always makes the letter less effective. I end up with a “Oh yeah?!” feeling to the letter, instead of making persuasive points.

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  32. Great post. I have an older daughter in college; minor in Native American Studies. THIS is such a good example of shameless racism. Generically, the figurines may mean nothing to the typical numb, and ignorant fool.
    Degrading any human being is just intolerable, regardless of what our skin looks like. We are human beings, we are all equal, share the same planet, one is no better than another.
    Focusing on Native American history–my daughter has discovered quite a few horrible terms, words, depictions, that tear them down, at the expense of cheap humor, or comments.
    I could go on and on about this. It really is a deep topic, and unfortunately, most people just don’t get it.
    Thanks for a great eye opening post.–Stephany

  33. cav said: “What political correctness you people possess.”

    You people? !

    Oh my gosh, prime example of the point of this discussion.

  34. Stephany-You should’ve seen his comments that I banned.

  35. :headdesk:

    and seriously: are there people who just cruise the Internets looking for…um, “too sensitive” people to get….well, “offended” by? “quick, to the PrivilegeMobile!” it does seem that way sometimes…

  36. Belledame-Yes, it really does seem that way. The number of people who worry about me focusing on things that are “not important” is impressive. Like manxome pointed out, they don’t grasp the irony that they’re focusing on the importance of someone’s blog post, ffs!

    But privilege sure leads to prickly responses.

  37. Damn, I should have scrolled down and picked up sample letters. I sent an e-mail, but it was short and I didn’t copy it. Thanks for pointing this out, SE!

    “quick, to the PrivilegeMobile!”

    Good one, belle!

  38. Ye gods. That’s atrocious.

  39. Pingback: Being Amber Rhea » Blog Archive » links for 2007-04-12

  40. Got a response to me e-mail this am. It’s more than a form letter: they actually read what we wrote:

    Thank you for comment regarding item # 23170, “Cactus Planter Couple”.
    Please note that we have passed on your comment to our “Customer Feedback”
    program. We value your opinion and are sorry that you are offended by this item. Please contact us if we may be of further assistance to you.

    Thank you for your continued interest in Collections Etc.!

  41. Ravenmn-I got that email too. But, I’m really encouraged that they bothered to respond at all. I’m curious to see what Customer Service has to say.

  42. Pingback: You Very Own Mini-Natives! « The Blog and the Bullet

  43. Hi SE. Right on the money with this post. The thing w/ white privilege is that people often do not even notice things like this.

    My eldest daughter and I have a weird hobby: we go “antiquing” and take pics of all the racist bullshit, like these figures. I have a big folder w/ digital pictures of unbelievable racist crap. And you wouldn’t believe how much some of it is worth. The ladies who run the shops invariably get pissed off and are relieved when we leave the stores.

    I’ve been intending for a while now to write a post showing some of the things we’ve seen — thanks for the nudge.

    Our dream is to win the lottery, buy the “Mammy & Chef” cookie jars (Think Aunt Jemima and Rastus characters), worth about $500+, and drop them on the floor after paying for them.

    I recently posted about a Gatorade commercial I found to be racist — boy did the white folks come out of the woodwork on that one! In fact, I’d never received so many comments. Suddenly, people were concerned with what I had to say! Imagine that. Of course, it was all the “racism doesn’t exist; you’re too sensitive; get a life; if you look under every rock for racism, you’re sure to find it; it was done in good fun” etc.

    Good post. I’m remotivated to post about the joys of antiquing.

  44. I’ve gotta say – I’ve seen this exact same setup with the human part of the figurine being a white person. And I don’t have a problem with people possessing and enjoying statues of people of races other than their own. Artistic representations of people is one thing – racist representations of people is another.

    On the other hand, I don’t disagree that these figurines have all sorts of creepy-ass ideas behind them (or associated with them) and are fricking ugly to boot.

  45. Ick ick ick! People actually buy this stuff and put it in their homes? And think it’s funny? Now?
    The fact that some people actually need to have why this is offensive explained to them, and then feel the need to whine about it…damn, people are stupid.

    Also, RE Philip’s dubious “point”…
    Philip, I am Scottish. I do not have ginger hair, but I have friends and relatives who do. So what? I do not consider wigs implying that many Scots are ginger of hair offensive, and a quick pole of my relatives reveals that no one else does either. Note the fact that those wigs are sold BY SCOTTISH PEOPLE. This is part of the great tradition of people everywhere taking the piss out of their own national stereotypes (most Scots make jokes about drinking too). The fact that people make these jokes within their own groups does not mean that outsiders are permitted to do the same.
    This is in no way similar to one group of people decorating their houses with “amusing” figurines of another group of people who they nearly wiped off the face of the earth. It just isn’t.
    And for thinking that it is you win today’s “ignorant dumbass” award. Enjoy!
    Now, in the past

  46. “I have noticed a disturbing trend in consumerism to hypersexualize and to ridicule minority populations through similar types of products and marketing.”

    God damn, really? I must’ve missed that somewhere in the 15 years or so that I’ve been using shops and exposed to the world of advertising.

    When will you people learn that in being so insecure about race you’re actually CREATING divisions, not easing them?

    “The fact that people make these jokes within their own groups does not mean that outsiders are permitted to do the same.”

    And here we see an excellent example of how barriers and divisions are being drawn up. You CANT do that because they are DIFFERENT. Because YOU are different. See? Your utopian vision of a perfect society is one which has actually got a lot of racial tensions. For instance I don’t know about you, but when I’m around a black person who I haven’t met before, I’m actually really nervous that I might say something to offend them, not because I’m racist, but because of this paranoid atmosphere we live in, and then I get angry that I’m nervous, because I shouldn’t be.

    If there were no racial divisions, if we saw eachother as people, and regarded race to be unimportant, then we would be MATURE enough to make jokes like these knowing that race has no bearing on personality. And we would be able to laugh TOGETHER.

    When I saw these statues I found them quite amusing, and I didn’t see anything racist about them until it was pointed out. And I must stress the fact that it was UNTIL it was pointed out. As far as I was concerned, hypersexuality among native Americans wasn’t the issue here… it’s the stereotype that they traditionally live in the kind of arid wasteland that a cactus would grow in. Why, for instance, would a white american office worker have a cactus growing out of his pants? What kind of “theme” is that? I’d be willing to bet that right next to those native americans were some white cowboys with cactii down their pants too and another one between their horse’s legs. Is this still racism? Is it still offensive? Or maybe, by seeing racism where there is none, are you helping to foster racism that comes from people who are angry at all the other races because “thanks to them” they now cannot enjoy a lot of things because it wasn’t “politically correct” enough or it “might offend” indigenous americans?

  47. I’m a bit confused.
    I always equated figures of native Americans with the Earthy Spiritual outlook they appear to be linked strongly with. If I were to acquire any such figures this would be to environmentally support such a mindset within a room.
    Perhaps this is romantic but is it wrong?
    Regards, Robin.

  48. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  49. OK, when I saw this pic during my browsing for a Mexican Male Figurine, I did find it amusing.
    I am native. Then it did seem tacky in the fact that the figurines are made to be as realistic of people as this company can get.
    I have seen this idea before where the cactus is planted in a clown’s pants. I found that amusing with no worries of racism.
    So would you still feel it is racial if they were more cartoonish?
    I liked Scotts’ post. I agree 90% with his ideal.
    Remeber when Crayola had to change the name of the Indian Red crayon.
    I thought that was over the top.
    I mean, of course we’re not red. Anybody can see that we aren’t RED.
    The sports teams still use “supposedly rasict” names. Again, I have no problem with it.
    Is it cause I’m from the younger generation?
    Though I did have my small share of racism as a child. “squaw”. That bothered me because it points out that I don’t fit in with the other kids.
    I’m different. But now that I am grown, those kids just didn’t know any better. Also I am in a small town in Canada. Maybe less racism?
    My mother whom is my link to the native race, owns a statue of a Chief, cross legged holding a long pipe (peace pipe). It is painted this hideous gold colour. She has had it for years.
    What does that say about her?
    She grew up on a settlement. I grew up in the “white” society. I guess I learned from my (native) family that these so called racist items/names/ etc. are not anything to dwell on.
    If by the year 2007 a person has not grasped the fact that all colours are humans with equal rights. Then that person is still ignorant to todays society.
    Yes they need educating. But to express total disdain towards things like this, I guess, just doesn’t get the point across.
    I didn’t and still don’t see the “hypersexuality” aspect of this. Maybe because I saw the same item as a clown? And is wasn’t pounded in my head that we are percieved that way.
    I don’t know why as a native I don’t seem to have the passion others have towards banishing anything and everything that is slightly racist.
    My fathers mother did not like that he married a native. Did my father care what she thought? No.
    Is it racist that I have a figurine from a yard sale that is a mexican man, in a sitting position with the typical large hat that they wear in the movies? I liked it because I have a liking towards mexican stuff. I have a few mexican decorations and definitly native decorations.
    Does this make me bad/wrong/ignorant?

  50. Thanks for sharing

  51. Pingback: Erase Racism Carnival April 2007 Edition « The Mustard Seed

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