When I saw the link forThe Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, I started thinking about what it would be like to be a curator there.
This site is very well-designed to protect us from having to see any of the images of the collection. You won’t see them on the front page, you won’t see them on the next page. Most good web design is “nothing should be more than two or three clicks away.” In this case, good web design is, “bury these deep enough that no one will click on these images by accident.”
So why collect these things? Why focus any time on thinking about them? Why not just erase them from memory? And above all, why exhibit them?
These are objects that cannot be reclaimed, cannot be defanged, cannot be viewed simply as art. Although some of them are aesthetically pleasing, most are not. And all of them were made with a range of disturbing emotions and motives ranging from hatred to contempt to disrespectful pity.
Museums and collections, however, do not just exist to preserve art. They also exist to preserve history. In the 1930s, many assimilated Jews all over Europe had completely let go of the centuries of hatred that had plagued the Jews. They were affluent, cultured, educated. They went to the same schools as their Christian counterparts, the same concerts, the same parties. They thought they were safe … and a lot of them died because they continued to believe in their safety as it crumbled out from under them.
This is why museums like this one are a good thing … even if you or I choose never to go to one, never to see what’s four clicks down, someone is watching our backs, and remembering. The curators of this museum are doing a very difficult job. They have to handle this material all the time; they have to think about it; they have to guard themselves against learning to like it in inappropriate ways; and you can bet your very last dollar that they get a certain percentage of visitors who are there for the worst possible reasons. Like garbage collection or nuclear waste disposal, I’m really glad someone else is doing it.