Symbols and Images of Hate Focus of NAACP Forum
By Karen Hudson Samuels – Tell Us USA National Deputy Editor
DETROIT (Tell Us Det) – The image of President Obama with a noose around his neck sends an intensely disturbing message and symbol of hate.
The poster was one of many illustrations and artifacts displayed in a powerful presentation during the symposium “From Symbols of Hate to Portraits of Understanding” sponsored by the NAACP in conjunction with its annual Fight Freedom Fund weekend.
Speaking to an audience of some 900 at the UAW/GM Training Center, Dr. David Pilgrim, founder of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, kicked off the program presenting images and explanations of how negative, stereotypical depictions make a mockery of people. Mockery said Pilgrim is one of the worst kinds of hatred.
The first image displayed on a large screen was of “Running Nig**er Target” made of metal. The character is an almost life-size, cartoonish silhouette of a black man with a large Afro and lips, who appears to be running. It was used as target practice; Dr. Pilgrim said he asked a Grand Rapids gun salesman for the most popular target for shooting practice, the man pulled out the “Official Running Nig**er Target.”
When you see such images, Pilgrim asks “Is this someone you want to live next to, would you one want one as President?” He said “The effect of racial imagery is that it allows us to summarily dismiss others.”
While difficult to absorb, the images of hate are intended to generate open and honest dialogue. However, naming the museum Jim Crow may have been a mistake Pilgrim said because it made people think stereotypical images ended in the 1960’s.
But Pilgrim says the objects of hate are still very present in various forms of popular culture, from everyday objects to advertisements and even board games.
For example, Pilgrim showed an image of the board game Ghettopoly based on Monopoly which caused a stir and protests by the NAACP for its parody of urban areas and was pulled from retail shelves in 2003.
In the game, railroad properties are replaced by liquor stores and crack houses — game pieces became machine guns and pimps. Despite sales being stopped, the game can still be purchased on internet sites as a collector’s item.
Advertisements for coon chicken with a black man shown with large red lips and big grinning eyes are examples Pilgrim said of “Every day hatred as mockery”. He then showed a slide of a restaurant exterior, the entrance is the wide open mouth of a black man and a sign that reads, inside coon chicken is served.
African Americans are not the only targets of bigoted images; Dr. Pilgrim showed images of Jews, Gays, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and immigrants, all demeaned by distorted portrayals.
An example of immigrant hated was displayed in a protest picket sign, “Stop the drugged, diseased invaders” others read “Keep Them Out”. The images, which send a racial message, have popped up in states protesting Mexican immigration.
In the arena of politics, Pilgrim displayed slides of Hilary Clinton during her campaign for presidency, they showed her as a man standing at a urinal. The message was clear; a woman trying to be a man was not worthy.
Even white Americans, in particular those how are poor, have been stereotyped. The example given was of a little girl advertising White Trash recipes; Pilgrim said God does not make trash.Some visitors to the Jim Crow Museum often find images, such as black women portrayed as sexual beings, Jezebels and prostitutes, as vulgar. Pilgrim, who requires teens to be accompanied by adults, said he tells parents who question the vulgarity that “Racist imagery is obscene.”
Paraphrasing a passage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Pilgrim said “If America is really going to deal with racism and any kind of injustice, you‘re going to have to treat it like a boil. No more band aids, no more saying there is nothing wrong me, treat it like a boil and let all the puss come out. And that’s what we do every day at the Jim Crown Museum.”
Panelists Discuss Symbols of Hate
Michigan ranks second nationwide in incidents of hate crime and of bias incidents (use of prejudicial slurs) according the FBI.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade was the first to speak on a panel that followed the presentation by Dr. David Pilgrim.
McQuade said a civil rights unit has been formed by the U.S. Department of Justice, Eastern District to take on the alarming hate crime statistic. The Department of Justice under Secretary Eric Holder is restoring its traditional mission of enforcing civil rights, including violations of the housing act and threats against the Muslim and Arab community.
Other panelists weighing on the discussion included Congressman John Conyers, Nickole Fox from American Indian Health & Family Services, Imam Dawud Walid of American-Islamic Relations, Curtis Lipscomb from KICK, Rev. Dr. John Mendez a pastor from North Carolina and Rev. Paul Perez from the Justice for Our Neighbors organization.
Devin Scillian, WDIV- TV anchor moderated the panel which tackled topics from the recent visit of Pastor Jones who has protested what he believes is the presence of Sharia law in the U.S. to gay bashing. Highlights of several panel comments are summarized below.
Congressman John Conyers – The Congressman says he is taking the birther debate very seriously given the large number of people who believe President Obama was not born in the United States. A more pressing concern close home is the “constitutional crisis” Conyers sees in Emergency Financial Manager legislation passed by the Michigan legislature. He said the law is “turning back the clock on civil rights”. Conyers says the EFM law alters contracts which are protected by the Constitution and violates due process protected by the 14th amendment. Benton Harbor recently became the first city in Michigan to be governed by an Emergency Financial Manager; all top city officials including the Mayor have been replaced.
Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director American-Islamic Relations – “We abhor the burning of any religious text, whether the Bible, Torah or the Koran” Walid said referring to the group led by Pastor whose members have burned the Koran. Staging protests outside any house of worship Walid said is not in keeping with his spiritual beliefs. As an example he said the demonstrators outside Ann Arbor’s Temple Beth Israel are not Muslim-like in their protests against what they say is the Israeli occupation of Arab land – the demonstrations have gone on for ten years.
Curtis Lipscomb, Executive Director of KICK – Lipscomb says the last, seemingly acceptable form of discrimination is against gay men. He talked about his being fired for being gay and not being eligible for to cover his partner under employee benefit plans. There is also a lack of acceptance by virtually all churches, Lipscomb said. KICK is an organization representing the interest of gay African American men.
Rev. Paul Perez, Regional Coordinator Justice for Our Neighbors – Stereotypical images of Hispanics are still pervasive said Perez. He gave the example of a Halloween costume marketed just a few years ago of an illegal alien mask. He said the symbol of the alien is a symbol of hatred and divineness. The image is often connected with other stereotypes of “resource sucking immigrants.”
By the end of the afternoon the audience was ready to hear from Dr. John Mendez, the pastor from North Carolina who said, educate yourself, get involved, challenge stereotypes when you see them, start conversations and exam your prejudices.