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WARNING: Some of the content to be found in this section, including the archives deals with topics of a violent or sexual nature in both pictures and text, and is meant for a mature audience. If you feel you may be offended by such content you should leave this page now.

ARCHIVES

Table of Contents

22. Feb 2018 - Dec 2018
21. Sept 2017 - Jan 2018
20. Mar 2017 - Aug 2017
19. Aug 2016 - Feb 2017
18. Aug 2015 - June 2016
17. Jan 2015 - June 2015
16. July 2014 - Dec 2014
15. Jan 2014 - June 2014
14. July 2013 - Dec 2013
13. Jan 2013 - June 2013
12. July 2012 - Dec 2012
11. Jan 2012 - June 2012
10. July 2011 - Dec 2011
9. Jan 2011 - June 2011
8. July 2010 - Dec 2010
7. Jan 2010 - June 2010
6. July 2009 - Dec 2009
5. Jan 2009 - June 2009
4. July 2008 - Dec 2008
3. Jan 2008 - June 2008
2. July 2007 - Dec 2007
1. Aug 2006 - June 2007

To keep the blog page a reasonable length the articles found within will be archived approximately every six months. To access older content, click the links on the left side of this page.



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June 23, 2019

Tuck at The Newberry

Since 1887, The Newberry has collected research and reference materials with a focus on the humanities. As part of this ongoing effort they have assembled postcards from the likes of Curt Teich and the Detroit Publishing Company. They hold the largest public collection of postcards and related materials in the United States. Thanks to a large donation of postcards by Leonard A. Lauder, their collection now includes the Oilettes produced by Raphael Tuck & Sons. Tuck, a pioneer of British postcards, began producing Oilettes in 1903. Although this series largely reproduced oil paintings of views by the artists that worked for them, many graphic works on a wide variety of subjects were also included. More than 26,000 of these cards have just been posted online at The Newberry website:
https://publications.newberry.org/tuck/#

Postcard

While I find the site a bit difficult to navigate, it remains an invaluable resource for all those interested in postcards. This is a comprehensive collection of high quality images showing both the front and back of each card, sometimes with variations. Tuck unfortunately is a highly problematic publisher when it comes to dating. Cards were not numbered in a consistent order and records that might have deciphered some of this concussion were destroyed in an air raid during the Second World War. This makes it difficult to organize cards in the most meaningful manner but the website does have a search engine to pick out topics and places.



April 16, 2019

Where Lines are Drawn
By Alan Petrulis

When we look at a line drawing, we are able to read space and the objects within it despite its abstract qualities. It does not matter if the lines only follow contours because our eyes are accustomed to making judgements based on contrast. This can easily be seen in silhouettes where a person is made recognizable without providing any detail outside of a sharp accurate outline. This is a trick of the mind, which affects all vision. Before we can begin to ponder an image reflected into the eye it must first pass through the amygdala, a part of the brain where it is filtered through memories of all past experiences. What we end up seeing is more a personal interpretation than reality. While this process may seem detrimental, the actually serves a beneficial purpose. Without having to decipher every facet of life that passes through our eyes, we can make quicker judgements. The ability to do so judiciously can be a matter of life and death. For most creatures there is no downside to being too cautious. When a dog barks at a snowman it mistakes for a threat, only a little energy is wasted. People on the other hand live in two realities, one of which is of their own making. We will easily expend a great deal of energy to conform to ideas that exist solely in our heads. We will go so far as to hurt and kill others and even ourselves over delusions for it is our perception of reality that shapes the world.

Postcard

A basic truth if there ever was one is that people believe their own perceptions of the world are the definition of normal. It is everyone else who holds a different viewpoint that is biased. If only others could see things as they do and approach issues with neutrality then everything would be perfect. Some believe that it only takes instructing others in the facts to bring their views into line, not realizing that facts like our perceptions are bent and distorted by the ideas we already hold. When Galileo had clerics look through his telescope, they could not see the moons revolving around Jupiter that he saw. That was a reality that did not exist for them. It was Galileo that was ultimately accused and found guilty of heresy and forced to recant his work. The stories we tell are just as important as reality for they become the reality we live by. They can evolve over time but they are hard to completely discard. While scientific thought has replaced superstition in the minds of many, there continue to be others that refuse to believe in it. In most cases, people are able to live in two worlds, believing in multiple realities while ignoring the contradictions.

Great Seal

The United States was born out of multiple realities since the thirteen English colonies were founded on differing principals. Once the colonists found themselves in the far off lands of America, the rule of monarchy that had bound them together began losing its influence. Uniting all under one constitution was not just a monumental task, the ability to compromise to accommodate all points of view stands as a monument to the minds of the day. Each member of the Continental Congress arrived with their own biases, a reality that they sought to promote. In the end they realized there was no going forward without finding a way to accept the differences between them. This became the great experiment of the United States of America. It was known from the start that it would not run smoothly. Though based on high ideals, it was still subject to the flaws of man and the different realities we hold. This is symbolized on the back of the Great Seal of the United States by a pyramid topped by the Eye of Providence. The godhead representing our ideals sits at the very point where there are no divisions. The rest of us live our lives below, struggling to ascend, but this is the world where the pyramid has sides, a reality we cannot ignore. The argument should not be whether America is great or not but a recognition that as a nation our striving for greatness is the perpetual struggle that we are called to face.

Postcard

Divisions over politics and religion loom large over American history. Few arguments have been as divisive as those over race. It does not matter that genetic researchers now say that there is no such thing, that the concept of race is just a human construct; it continues to sit as a reality in most people’s minds because it has been part of the American story from the very start. Divisiveness has always been the enemy of the American experiment. It has not just hampered enactment of cohesive policies, it has led to a bloody civil war. What best united people is story, and unfortunately our nation grew while following two diverse story lines. The American Civil War was not fought so bitterly over an economic model as some now claim, it was whether the idea of White supremacy had any place in a land founded on high ideals. The military defeat of the Confederacy ended the war and freed our slaves but it did not secure an answer to this question. Southerners fought on in different ways to make sure their way of life, their reality did not change. The failure of Reconstruction is perhaps America’s greatest tragedy. Not only was it a lost chance for national redemption, it ensured that our worst angels would continue to subvert the promise of America. While concerted efforts were directly made to suppress the political and economic power of newly freed slaves, the more important aspect of this new war was to control public opinion. Even though violence and terror could always be inflicted on black communities, it was a losing battle unless racial bias in the general population could be maintained. This became essential by the 1890’s when serious efforts to form a populist political movement of poor whites and blacks that shared class interests began to take shape.

Postcard

The 1890’s also saw the commercial interests of the powerful railroad industry begin to coincide with efforts to shape the American story. By promoting National Tourism, they both increased their customer base and furthered story lines that the nation could rally behind after a bitter civil war. This unifying effort to create good citizens became part of their mission. Unfortunately, since few people of color took on the role of tourist, there was no need to include them in their promotions even when they played important roles in American history. The defining story of America came to be told through two myths, one following the birth of democratic principles in New England and the other revolving around the pioneer spirit found in Western expansion. Even though many blacks shared this history, they found themselves excluded from the national narrative.

Postcard

Efforts to create a national myth also excluded the story of the Lower United States. Race was still a controversial issue and it was easier to bury the history of slavery than acknowledge uncomfortable contradictions in the land of the free. Once the Reconstruction Era ended, there were no official institutions left to represent the interests of freed slaves. This vacuum did not go by unnoticed; it not only led to the enactment of Jim Crow laws, it encouraged many Southerners to begin rewriting their own history, presenting their racist ideals in terms of a noble cause. This spirit of resistance can be found on many postcards issued for Confederate Memorial Day. It was all meant to insure that the New South looked little different from the old. The proliferation of this material is still working to distort our understanding of history.

Postcard

One of the best ways to influence a society is through popular culture. People are generally resistant to paradigm shifts but they will slowly assimilate what becomes familiar without ever realizing the change. There was no shortage of overt racist imagery produced but this always posed the problem of being seen for what it is and generating outrage among the less sympathetic in turn. It was much more effective if hidden in something that seems benign where it can just become the background to which we live. These subtle methods were integrated into entertainment, literature, advertising and on popular printed imagery such as postcards. It is a mistake to believe old postcards were meant to depict the way we live; they better to show how we define others and ourselves. While they may not have been specifically produced as propaganda, they became popular in part because they reinforced the existing paradigms that society lived by. They helped to alleviate any doubts that racism might be wrong.

Postcard

When postcards became an important part of popular culture at the turn of the 20th century, they became a mechanism that naturally reinforced this long told story of inferior races. As an item that had to be purchased they needed to appeal to their customers sense of societal order. They helped to create an insulating bubble from which other people and places could be viewed without ever having to leave the comfort of familiar beliefs and habits. While there were many niche audiences that required more unusual imagery to fill, most publishers catered to the white middle-class because they had the most money to spend. Postcards, being a small pictorial medium, had limited means of communication. Illustrators generally came up with a series of tropes to quickly convey a message that did not require much thought. This is the same formula used on greeting cards that tend to play on sentimentality. Though only a small scrap of paper, a postcard could convey a powerful message through it constant repetition until there was no doubting the reality it portrayed. While specifics always remained in flux to follow taste, there was a constant overriding message; people of color were inferior to whites. In Europe these same attitudes were expressed on postcards that commonly depicted Types. Racism after all is the backbone of all imperialist empires.

Postcard

Perhaps the most common racist trope is that of the black minstrel, which predates the Civil War. It is said to have originated in 1828 when Thomas Dartmouth Daddy Rice took on the semblance of the trickster figure Jim Crow while performing a song-and-dance routine wearing blackface. By the 1840’s, minstrel shows had evolved into a popular and more complex art form that included a wider variety of instruments beyond the banjo and comical skits in an exaggerated plantation dialect. If the origins of these shows were purely for entertainment, it did not take long for them to be incorporated in the struggle to counter the abolitionist movement. They became essential in creating the stereotype of the happy content slave, free of the responsibilities of the outside world that they were not capable of facing. This same caricature continued to be promoted after the Civil War, only now blacks were depicted as unable to handle their newfound freedom, longing for the safe harbor that slavery once provided. Free or not, all blacks had to be shown to be the inferior of whites to rationalize white supremacy.

Trade Card

Even though the popularity of minstrel shows steadily declined after 1870, the tropes it created remained firmly imbedded within American culture. If troupes no longer filled stages, the image of the black minstrel could still be generously found in illustration and advertising. They became a common sight on trade cards even when the stereotype had little to do with the product or service being promoted. It had just become another piece of Americana, a benign representation of a social reality for which no deep thought was required to interpret. This complacent acceptance would continue as depictions of minstrels moved on to postcards, then movies and television. While the image if the minstrel has largely faded from the public conscious, the idea that blacks are inherently suited to be entertainers continues.

Postcard

Minstrels on postcards primarily came in two forms. One was the tradition highly energized entertainer dressed in tattered clothing to confirm his inferior social status. The second was a seemingly more benign presentation, still cheerful, but with little to no effort given to confer social standing. What is difficult to know is the reasoning behind this difference. Was this a real effort by some publishers to present blacks in a better light or was the stereotype so ingrained that the exact presentation no longer mattered? Variations on this theme could be made to entice more sales without ever having to worry about interpretation. No one was deciphering the symbolism or references within the illustration; everyone already knew what a minstrel stood for.

Postcard

This same problem arises with how to interpret cakewalk postcards. This dance had its origins in plantation life where blacks would mock the formal dance moves of their white masters. This was tolerated as a form of sanctioned rebellion, a safe release of pent up frustrations in the same tradition as when the slaves of ancient Rome were allowed to mock their masters during the festival of Saturnalia. Cakewalk competitions undoubtedly led to even more exaggerated moves until it became a parody of itself. This dance was popularized by minstrel shows; part of their walkaround as they came out on stage. Once its origins were forgotten, it could be promoted as an authentic negro dance, one that now mock blacks. Eventually tied to Ragtime music, the popularity of both rose together until they became a craze at the turn of the 20th century. By that time, there was little consensus left over the dance’s meaning. While some blacks considered it a degrading relic from the past, others continued to perform it during their own celebrations. Unlike the trope of the minstrel, the cakewalk took on a life of its own.

Postcard

The cakewalk phenomena showed up on postcards in all sorts of manifestations. From a dance of minstrels, it became a dance of whites, world leaders, and even anthropomorphic animals. The popularity of Minstrel acts overseas expanded the craze, causing the cakewalk to be reproduced on more postcards. While many of these cards depicted the performers of stage acts, the dance can also be found in political cartoons. The question is, can imagery drift far enough away from its origins to lose its racial content? The answer is not so simple. At some point the message these cards were trying to get across had nothing to do with race. It only required the recognition of the cakewalk craze, not what the dance originally represented. The unbridled abandon found in the dance was once be used polite society to look down on the primitive nature inherent in black people, but as mores loosened, such behavior grew more acceptable, at least to rebellious whites. We can see a similar scenario repeated when so called jungle music evolved into rock-n-roll. Such transitions are never smooth and rarely are they ever complete. There is always the danger of racial symbolism being revived by detractors because it is impossible to fully erase once it becomes part of a society’s psyche.

Postcard

Once the cakewalk began loosing its association with the black community, it lost its effectiveness as a racist trope. This allowed newer dances to replace it as musical tastes moved on and it was largely forgotten after World War One. Minstrel shows also fell out of favor at this time, though remnants still lived on in vaudeville theater. Many cards were produced promoting such shows and performers. Even as a small part of the entertainment scene, they did much to solidify the tradition of blackface by keeping it comfortably familiar. This allowed for its easy inclusion into more mainstream theater and film. It was not until the 1960’s with the growth of the civil rights movement that the use of blackface began to be seriously questioned.

Real Photo Postcard

Despite the widespread condemnation that eventually came down on blackface, we have not seen its demise. To place the blame on those who overtly use it to express their bigotry is a vast oversimplification. Over time people continue using these tropes, not necessarily out of bias, but just because they are part of a familiar world. While their demise from popular culture is resisted by those who refuse to give up their hateful beliefs, there is also resistance from those who just don’t like change. Rarely will this latter group see themselves as racist because the racist tropes they embrace has passed into a broader cultural reference they identify with. Being asked to give it up seems like a personal attack on their own heritage. Over-saturation has dulled their capacity to see its harm. To complain is often like accusing a fish of being wet, they don’t understand, they seem unable to comprehend. To live so unaware of racial bigotry and its consequences is a consequence of privilege. Only those of privilege can afford to see it as a joke for they never suffered adverse consequences from the social structure it is meant to uphold. We have seen the extent of this problem in the recent controversy concerning the Governor and Attorney General of Virginia who both admitted to wearing blackface, apologized for the misdeed, but still appeared clueless. 

Postcard

There were other common racial troupes promoted on postcards that still remain with us. One is the lazy black whose hardest choice in life seem to be whether to steal a chicken or a watermelon. The original association of blacks and watermelon was to represent their newfound freedom after the Civil War. Growing and selling this fruit became an important means to secure independence from those who sought to draw them back into exploitive plantation life. Older negative tropes however would be brought into play to associate blacks with unclean and lazy behavior. They are presented as if an ethnographical study, the same way as other cards of foreign Types are shown eating traditional meals. Whether in Africa or the United States, blacks were shown to be children unfit for freedom. It must be noted that whites are never presented in this fashion. Their habits do not have to be scrutinized for they are understood as being normal. The problem here is not that black people do not like eating watermelon, it is that it is a stereotype used to define them. When boundaries are drawn, it limits our perceptions and the true achievements of blacks can then be easily ignored or even denied.

Postcard

White people are almost never shown eating watermelon on postcards because it is a trope reserved for blacks. There are however such images to be found on real photo postcards because the photographer was only interested in capturing the fun to be had with a sweet messy meal. When there was no mass audience to cater to, common expectations did not have to be met and freedom could be found. Even so, when I look at such cards today, it is difficult to see them for what they are. White children eating watermelon seems an aberration. My first reaction is to see them as the opposite of what I expect. It requires an act of translation. It does not matter what the intentions of photographers were or that the stereotype holds no meaning to me, there is no escaping context that is so deeply imbedded in a society. The negative association of black people with watermelon has become one of America’s most enduring tropes.

Postcard

Unwittingly or not, many postcard publishers helped to carry racist ideas forward by depicting racist tropes. It is not always easy to assign motive as the message is not always clear or consistent. The Detroit publishing Company is a good example of a firm that produced countless pictures of watermelon eaters, gamblers and cotton pickers on their coon cards while also publishing some beautiful images depicting blacks that are seemingly no way disrespectful. These kinder portrayals however are not all that they first seem to be. A respectable looking portrait may still demean through titles like Playing Hookey, I’se Born Tired or I Wasn’t Born to Labor. Sometimes it is not the title but the dialect they are written in. Ever since George Dixon introduced the stage character of Zip Coon to minstrel shows in the 1830’s, performers in blackface where expected to talk in an ignorant manner that betrayed their attempts to act civilized. Even blacks who took part in minstrel shows had to present themselves as coons to better fit into the caricature they portrayed. The idea that blacks might have any dignity or value to society was unacceptable to the white audiences they performed for, and this belief was then adopted by most postcard publishers who largely sold to whites.

Postcard

One of the most common of these gentile stereotypes was that of the nurturing and wise mammy. Her basic appeal is derived from the inherent traits found in the mother archetype. While on the surface she might seem to be a positive role model, the caricature is meant to confine black women to this limited role. Originally used to present the contentment of plantation slaves, it later worked to show that black women were best suited for menial domestic work. Such stereotypes have real consequences. Not only were black women funneled into these types of jobs for lack of other opportunities, their preponderance in them is what exempted this form of work from minimum wage laws. While there have been recent efforts to spruce up mammy with less racist connotations, this trope remains in use.

Postcard

Some caricatures of black men were more slippery like that of Uncle Tom. Based on the title character from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, he displays the gentile traits of honesty, sobriety and faith. While these are also traits that society embraces, and they were shown as such in the novel, they take on additional overtones once the character became a stereotype. He does not behave well by choice for this requires high moral thought. Instead h his goodness is derived from his innocence; he is a perfect example of the noble savage envisioned by romantics. Even though this makes him the type of nonthreatening black that white people can deal with, it also imbues him with a simple-minded naivety that limits his prospects. Like mammy, Uncle Tom became a favorite of advertisers. They could both uphold the existing racial social order by stereotyping blacks, while at the same time presenting images that actually seemed kindly. Such tropes of course were made for a white audience. Blacks eventually came to use the term Uncle Tom as a derogatory epithet for those willingly cooperating with white oppression. Ironically, the stereotype was not well received in the South because of the novel&rsqio;s strong anti-slavery views.

Postcard

While it may not be possible to find fault with an individual image, seen as a whole we only find depictions of poor rural blacks. Where are the doctors, the shopkeepers, the portraits of those that show blacks the equal of whites? That was a stretch too far for them to take a risk on. Postcards were a mass marketed product and publishers were first inclined to make a profit, not to change social norms. Many whites had no desire to see blacks degraded on postcards, but neither did they want to see them as their equals and publishers usually met these expectations regardless of personal feelings. Without knowing intent, it is difficult to attribute racist views to any particular publisher regardless of the cards he produced. It is however easy to say that few stood up to this injustice, finding it easier to just fit in and line their pockets.

Real Photo Postcard

Independent photo studios where even more inclined to meet the needs of their audience and often fine tuned their output accordingly. Unlike large publishers that tried to find the median consensus on any issue to pull in the most sales, a photographer had to work within the world view of his own community. This is where we find the rarest postcards today because they could represent extremes beliefs. The most obvious of these are real photo postcards that depict a lynching. This activity did not all take place in some remote wood in the dead of night. Lynching was often enacted as a festive public celebration that brought out many in a community. These circumstances ensured a large enough audience for a photographer to sell souvenirs to. While the many lynching cards produced suggest that these acts of terror were widely accepted by the larger community, the lack specific information on many of them as to where and when they took place suggests something else. One may feel safe within the confines of a mob, but that does not alleviate all guilt. Just like the Nazis who documented their activities at concentration camps and then destroyed this evidence on the approach of the enemy, unrepentant white supremacists put aside pride their ideology in fear of creating evidence to a crime. Although these cards were produced in higher numbers than we would like to imagine, the subject was never tackled by mainstream publishers for there were limits on what was considered acceptable.

Real Photo Postcard

While the black middle-class was not large at the turn of the 20th century, it did exist. This provided other opportunities for photographers if not publishing houses. These real photo postcards take a much different tone as they meet a different community’s needs. Most of this is studio work, portraits of those who came in for a sitting or stoped at a photographers booth at an amusement. Although these types of dignified images counterbalance mainstream representations of these times, they were produced for such an isolated audience that they had little effect on social change. Postcard publishers may have catered to commonly held beliefs only because they were thinking of their bottom line, but they did not exist in a vacuum. Those benefiting from the status quo never like to see change, and it remained important to them that the public did not believe anything could be different. There were many black artists and photographers that worked diligently to break these stereotypes, but they faced an uphill battle against those that controlled what the public was allowed to see and believe.

Postcard

Not being able to understand how postcards codify ideas into a society is to fall victim to their message. It may matter little if persuaded to make an unnecessary purchase, but propaganda can also be used to alter public opinion on very serious matters. We can find postcards employed this way by those who promoted the pseudoscience of eugenics. When the theory of racial purification through genetic selection was first introduced by the Englishman, Francis Galton in the 1880’s, he could not conceive of a practical way that it could be applied to human beings. This outlook changed when his ideas reached American shores and was expanded upon by Charles Davenport, founder of the American eugenics movement. This proved to be fertile ground because our long history of institutionalized racism made it easy for those of privilege and power to see the inferiority of others. As the pollution of our gene pool became an almost frantic concern, the practice of preventing undesirables from breeding was enacted into state law. While there was no massive campaign to drum up public support, a number of postcard publishers did what they could to maintain an atmosphere where such work could be carried out. Up into the 1970’s, hundreds of thousands of Americans were committed to mental institutions or received forced sterilizations to prevent them from having children.

Postcard

The term undesirable was broadly defined. It went so far as to mark left-handed people and those who wore eyeglasses for sterilization. Such wide-scale ambitions however could only be carried out in steps, so they began targeting groups that were already the least valued. Although the DNA of poor whites and blacks were both destined for eradication, it was the black community that found itself singled out by postcard publishers. While there is no proof of motive, it is not difficult to conclude that this was a result of personal bigotry long supported by American culture. These cards fit in seamlessly with each other because they both supported familiar biases. Large families were posed in front of their dilapidated shacks to show that they were unable to break a self-inflicted cycle of poverty. These depictions, brimming with picaninnies might speak for themselves, but appropriate titles were occasionally added to make sure the correct message got through. Although the term race suicide was first directed against those immigrating to the United States from Eastern European in the 1880’s, it eventually came to be exclusively used against large black families.

Postcard

The years following World War One saw a boom in racial imagery. Much of this was produced on comic postcards and in animated cartoons. Humor had always been the perfect place to hide bigotry. After all, how can something that is funny be harmful? We still find this reaction to racist humor today. What we don’t notice is how this teaches us who is deserving and who is not without ever giving much thought to racial issues. While some of these images may only seem playful, we cannot assume a lack of racial motivation, especially those made in a time when racial tensions ran so high. Humor was one of the ways that eugenics was promoted. These cards may seem silly but they were a real attempt to help sway public opinion on a very serious matter. It is interesting to see how a movement that claimed to have a scientific rational and gained so much ground and official support, could not just come out and state that their ultimate goal was to create s Nordic master race. They knew their utopian goals like that of all utopias have a limited audience because their premise is ultimately exclusionary. More serious attempts to broaden the belief in racial cleansing beyond those who were already racist came to an end during World War Two when they conflicted with the propaganda war being waged against the Nazis. If their extermination programs were to be presented as a crime rather than the road to a better world, racist rhetoric in the United States would have to be toned down.

Postcard

Myths often describe greater truths better than facts, but they can also contain the seeds of their own destruction. It seems that as Americans began to believe more and more in their own greatness, they were loath to discover just how far from reality our story really was. While the creation of a national myth has been paramount in keeping us together as a nation, many have not only been excluded from this myth, they have been designated its permanent victims. Confronting these inherent contradictions between embracing universal truths and enacting exclusionary policies has created a dilemma, for as much as racism divides, it has largely acted as a unifying element for a disparate American society over much of its history. The great chasm between what we say we believe in and what actually exists has led to a loss of confidence in the American myth. This has inevitably created ongoing conflicts between those who have suffered at the hands of this story and who now seek reform, and those who desperately cling to the traditional story line in fear of losing privilege. Now that people of all ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientation demand greater adherence to American ideals, we find ourselves inevitably becoming an even more divided nation.

Postcard

Too many today are demanding a purity of conviction as if that is something human beings can ever meet. Complaints are raised over the amount of racism still prevalent in our society while treating it as if it were a foreign invasion. It may only be natural to blame one’s problems on outsiders, but we really need to look at ourselves. There is currently a real failure by all parties to recognize that we have always been a diverse nation with conflicting ideas over who we should be. This is not to say we should not take action against those that are so filled with hatred to pose a real danger, but large segments of society cannot be written off over disagreements. Even if these disagreements seem profound, they are not alien to us but rooted in our history. This is truly who we really are. We can see this in the compromises made by our founding fathers when forging this nation. They left the institution of slavery intact and it has festered in our bowls ever since. This however cannot be an argument against compromise for it did not put an end to change. Compromise is not always about sacrificing one’s ideals, its about finding a way forward even if it is imperfect. It is difficult to persuade because arguments are rarely about facts, they are about how reality is perceived. We need a story, a new story, one that does not throw out the values we cherish but one that can include all of us. Too often we tie ourselves to the narratives that only single us out as special at the cost of denying everyone else their due. Finding a way to rise above this selfishness is impossible without a greater generosity of spirit. It will remain an impossible task as long as public discourse is dominated by the hateful and those who seek personal gain by keeping us divided.

Postcard

There is an argument to be made that the destruction of racist tropes denies the vocabulary needed to carry out racist acts, but this only works if everyone forgets. Eliminating ideas is next to impossible, and those tied to instinct will always be part of us. Even the bloodiest purges by the most ruthless have failed to bring all into line. It can also be said that the difficulties we now face in confronting our problems is due to a lack of understanding our own history. Without a proper perspective of who we are, we can only lash out against each other in rage. Postcards may no longer play an important role in defining culture, but we can gain a lot by understanding how they were once used to manipulate society. We are certainly not free of the tropes they once carried nor the world view they promoted. Media manipulation has only grown more sophisticated and it infiltrates our lives in more ways than previously thought possible. We must be aware of how seeming small actions can help to frame and perpetuate racism. While it is not possible to provide definitive proof of any postcard publishers bias, many upheld a world view that accepted racism as a natural part of it. We must be careful not to brush aside our own lack of intent as an excuse to use racist tropes. I do not advocate enforcing political correctness; I see that as corrosive to the core principals of freedom that our nation is founded on. On the other hand, embracing good manners can go a long way. I know this sounds overly simplistic for we live in a world where there seems to be no limits on how cruel we can be to each other, but if we could not hurt others through ill-considered acts, it might provide an environment where hate has less room to grow. Contours will always shape our reality because that is part of being human, but we are not without choice when it comes to where we draw the lines that divide.


Postscript: As this essay is being posted, Notre-Dame de Paris is burning. You do not have to be Catholic, Christian or French to feel the loss of this cathedral; the tragedy is being universally acknowledged. This reaction is evidence that there is greater common ground between us than we tend to realize. The same work of art, whether it be a painting, a poem, or a piece of architecture can have appeal in any culture when it speaks to the human spirit. I do realize there are those who will never get this. We have seen great monuments destroyed in recent history by those incapable of seeing past their self-centered beliefs. Even French revolutionaries did great damage to Notre-Dame in their ideological zeal. This however only shows that the road ahead is difficult, not impossible to traverse. Being different does not mean we cannot unite behind a greater good.




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