I've heard it often suggested that if you want to address a certain social behavior, like the human cancer that is racism, your choices are to ignore it or confront it. So we've always seemed to bounce around in this nether land of doing too little, or too much to combat it; either we turn our backs on blatant demonstrations of racism because we fear how much power there might be behind it, or we make blanket statements, accuse innocent people or try to fight hatred with violent hatred.
Now, there's a third option. And we've joked about it in the past but never actually pulled it together to this degree. Some of us have sneaked into teabagger rallies trying to get photos of a particular display of ignorance or hatred, and then we've posted it on a blog or in our Facebook page for as many people to see as possible.
David Pilgrim of Grand Rapids, Michigan has taken it to the nth degree, and has created the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. So now there's a place where ignorance and bigotry not only gets posted and shown for a few days, but is on display for the ages to look at, to try and understand, to learn from, and to identify it in all its forms. When David Pilgrim says 'racist garbage', that's not an epithet. He means it literally!
"I collect this garbage because I believe, and know to be true, that items of intolerance can be used to teach tolerance..."
David Pilgrim is originally from Mobile, Alabama. And that point always seems to get made whenever one talks about Mr. Pilgrim's work as the museum's curator, and as Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization working within Ferris State University. That's where the museum is, by the way. I haven't been able to ascertain why mention of his original home comes up, but I have an idea. If you want to create a museum of something, as an archeological disipline you have to go and dig for it where it's remains are richest.
In order to truly enjoy the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia you'd have to actually go there and see it for yourself. Or you could seek out other outlets that include Pilgrim's works among their other displays. For example, the exhibit, THEM: Images of Separation has been packaged for road tours and is currently on display at Kendall College of Art and Design.
But for those of us just too far to take in Pilgrim's Jim Crow Museum of racist garbage, here's a nice little video tour:
David Pilgrim's idea is so simple and so brilliant I can only hope others see it for the valuable education tool it is, and duplicate it a million times over. There will always be a time to be gentle when images of racism appear, and there will always be time when even going overboard to confront it will seem like the logical thing to do. But now there's a third option. Put racism on display, let's all look at it, know it, teach it. And then when it appears in the display cases of real life, we can know exactly who and what it is we're dealing with.