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Straight No Chaser: My Thoughts on the Removal of the “Pickaninny Art”

Op/Ed By Gloria Winston

 

gloria newFirst, I want to congratulate those who persevered, and have been victorious in securing the removal of the controversial “pickaninny art” that will soon be removed from the Dentzel Carousel at Ontario Beach.

I was invited, on a number of occasions, to join the controversy on social media, and to weigh-in on the combative, racist, and bigoted mix of comments which followed the decision.

However, I did not feel I could make comments at the time, because of the mixed emotions I had been wrestling with since the controversy first surfaced.

I did not feel I could make comments because, I had found myself agreeing with those who had not wanted to see that piece of history taken from where it had sat since 1901.

I have to be careful from this point on, because there are personalities in this community who may seek to search and destroy me, just because I do not agree with their philosophy, their movement, or their concerns.

I fear no evil, however, I just want to let my readers know that, if you support the words which follow, you, too, may feel the need to duck. IJS.

First and foremost, I have been riding the carousel at Ontario Beach Park since I was at least five years old.

That means I have been riding it, at the very least, for 65 years.

And, I can’t recall paying attention to the artwork, as a youngster in elementary school, a middle schooler, a high schooler, a teenager, a young adult, a mother who also took her children to ride, a babysitter, or one who frequented the carousel, one time.

I also can’t honestly say the artwork in question has had any impact on my psyche, my self-esteem, or upbringing in this community.

However, what has impacted me the most, has been the live, and in-your-face racists and bigots in this community, many of whom are employed by local radio, TV, and print media outlets.

Many of these individuals also now take to social media to express themselves, and to spread their hatred, and ignorance. These are the ones who have concerned me.

However, taking down a piece of history, a piece of art, to me, only speaks to how easy it can be to ignore the rights of others; their right to free speech, which allegedly should be protected by the U.S. Constitution.

I feel the call to remove this image has been a cry of hypocrisy, from those who have claimed to be freedom and justice fighters.

If this is allowable, why should we stop there? Why don’t we just burn all the books, like they did in China, in an effort to keep people ignorant? Why don’t we just destroy or remove every reminder of our history, and sometimes painful past, that may contain controversial passages, and art that we are uncomfortable with?

This piece of controversial art is just that, a piece of art, a caricature.

And, although to some it may be a stark reminder of the dark times in our history, it is also just that, HISTORY.

History is not something meant to be amended, rewritten, ignored, or changed by a group of people just because they have found the truth to be uncomfortable.

How will we ever learn the truth, if this becomes the norm?

Caricatures are the products of an artist’s creative mind. Who are we, to attempt to destroy that artist’s legacy?

As black folks, we are quick to complain about not being included in historical accounts on several fronts. However, we can justify being a part of a movement that has been set on destroying someone else’s legacy?

Sorry, but I don’t get it, and I don’t support it.

We would celebrate degrading caricatures of the police, with pig faces, and think nothing of it.

This just reeks of hypocrisy to me.

In addition, a little research and fact-checking would reveal that “pickanniny art,” and the word “pickanniny” have not always been considered racist, or negative.

Dating back to the 1500s, the word “pickanniny” had been used as a term of endearment, much like the word NI##&R has been used in our culture today.

Each generation brings with it folks who have opinions, ideas, and leadership skills which may be capable of changing the way we think about things.

And, some of us may fall hard for what THEY believe.

However, Harriet Beecher Stowe did not depict Topsy, a “pickaninny,” as anything other than a character she hoped would shame folks into ending slavery as an acceptable institution. Topsy was not created as an evil or negative character, in her book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

She had only good intent.

And, televised “pickaninnies,” like Buckwheat and Stymie, who appeared in The Little Rascals, or Our Gang, also served a purpose, in breaking the glass ceiling for black actors.

So, sorry, I am not buying the hype.

We have far more issues in our community that need our attention, instead of spending time trying to erase history.

Our history is what has brought us thus far, and I am not ashamed of one step in our journey.

The bottom line, for me, is the “pickaninny” culture has been an important part of our history, and our journey, and it does not need to be buried.

Instead, it should be celebrated.

My level of appreciation and sensitivity to any creative person who has produced what they have felt, or seen, on canvas, is that it is something which should be honored.

Just because some people have felt some level of discomfort, or have been made to feel ashamed of images that have not spoken highly of our culture, is not a reason to destroy them.

Don’t we all say we need to know where we have been, in order to know where we are going?

The “pickannines,” whether in art form, or on stage, are the shoulders on which our modern day artists, actors, and actresses stand, lest we forget.

My name is Gloria Winston, I stand by my personal beliefs, and I approve this message.

I know there are those in this community who will be ready to beat me down to the ground for disagreeing with what they perceive to be philosophically important, especially when I have found it to be a waste of time.

Bring it!!

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