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Segregation Denounced

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Created: December 17, 2002
Latest Update: December 17, 2002

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Detail from Veronica Sanders' Painting on Thoughts for Trent Lott. Thoughts for Trent Lott

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, Veronica Sanders, and Individual Authors, December 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

On December 15, 2002, Veronica Sanders sent her digital painting on Thoughts for Trent Lott, of which a detail appears above. Look at how much can be, is said without words. For the detail above I removed the words. But the message is still clear. We're talking about the South and segregation. And Veronica's image does a good job of portraying how interdependent child-rearing roles were shared, how there was really considerable input into the ideology by all those who lived under it, and how hidden that interdependence was.

I like particularly the straight proud back of the black woman who is portrayed, and the child, the black child in her lap. I don't pretend to know what her thoughts must have been, but I suspect that her admonition to Trent "Trent was brought up better than that" rings true for any Southerner. What does the painting say about the childhood and socialization of white and black? What does it say about the imposed status of relative class, according to color? Great job, Veronica. I think you've given us a lot to think about, and you've given me a painting to cherish. Thank you, jeanne.

The concepts I'd like you to consider in analyzing the painting include:

  • white privilege - a higher status rank in what is owed to one on the basis of some ascribed characteristic, such as light skin color, that can pass as white, in the social sense. In privilege based on color people are judged by their skin tone; in most cases, the lighter the skin tone, the more competent, intelligent they are assumed to be. Notice that this is a form of essentializing, of assuming that we can tell what the person is like on the basis of one or more superficial characteristics.

  • the interdependence of social construction of reality - because many bits of social reality are constructed, reproduced, made up as we go, all parties to the transaction actually have an effect on the result. Thus the black substitute mother had much to do with the "proper" rearing of every child entrusted to her. In this sense the "black mothers" of the South shaped the conceptual thinking of the children in their care. That was undoubtedly overridden by the ideology of white supremacy, but the black contribution was not trivial.

  • The role of color in segregation. A sense of what it was like to have "white fountains" and "colored fountains," "white restrooms" and "colored restrooms." These are daily experiences that those outside the South have never shared. Think of them as "lived experience." I think I have a link to some "colored and white fountains," but I'll have to hunt for it. In fact, there are very few photographs of such memories for the ruling hierarchy did not approve of rendering such experience in hard reality.

    Matt Davies' cartoon, Copyright 2002.

    Matt Davies, The Journal News, Copyright 2002. Reproduced here for teaching purposes only.

    I think you need the photos if I can find them again, but Matt Davies' cartoon, will give you a feeling for what it was like. In this cartoon, in the place of :"White" and "Colored" for the separate fountains, we have Trent Lott's presentation of self as majority leader, and his presentation of self back stage. I hope you'll pull out your copy of Goffman's Presentation of Self in Everyday Life for this one.

  • silencing - The imposition of social unacceptability to mention any of the status differentials that go with privilege. Silencing (Paulo Freire) is enforced by both the oppressed and the oppressors; it permeates the social structure in which they find themselves and to which they contribute in their lived experience. Notice the silencing effect of the black mother whose portrait Veronica gives us. She says nothing of the horrors that accompanied segregation, only that Trent was "brought up" better than that. She does not speak of the socially forbidden topics, only of "upbringing," which is a way to express her disappointment, grief, anger? without breaking the rules of silence which bound her in the Southern social system.