The MCCC library often showcases beautiful art, colorful vases, three dimensional paintings, and statues.
But what about a hateful depiction of a man with big lips, a long, crooked nose, and small eyes discussing the dangers of “racial mixing?”
On March 28, students received an email informing them of the exhibit known as “THEM: Images of Separation.” It is a traveling exhibition on loan from Ferris State University that showcases items from popular culture used to stereotype different groups.
Library staff were alerted that some people expressed concerned about the content of the exhibit. Now, before students walk into the library, they are met with a big white sign in bold letters warning students about the controversial images.
License plates, postcards, games, souvenirs, and even costumes promoted stereotyping against minorities. Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, poor Whites, African-Americans, different body types, and the LGBTQIA community were amongst the stereotyped groups in the display.
Student assistant Jessica Collins says the exhibit is necessary to encourage questions and discussions on prejudice.
“With how everything is, I believe that there needs to be more of an understanding of what intolerance is,” Collins said.
“And I think that one of the only ways to do that is to shock somebody and, you know, obviously this is a shock-ful show and I think these images of intolerance do teach tolerance because we’re seeing one of the worst aspects of humanity, basically, in these images.”
When the exhibit was installed, some of the initial reactions were shock.
“I think the reactions [from students] were caused by the lack of signs in the library,” Collins said.
“We put the images up first, and so when students entered the library there was a misunderstanding as to why these images were here in the first place. Where now, as you can see, when you walk into the library- even before you walk into the library- there are signs explaining why these images of intolerance are here.”
Brian Shyllander and his friends Brooklyn Rathbone, Lucas Mahn, and Brandon Szparagowski were all viewing a photo of a woman with a cork in her mouth.
This exhibit focused on the idea that women talk too much, one stereotype of gender.
“A persistent gender stereotype in the United States is that women talk too much and that their verbosity is related to their gender,” the sign read. “When a man is talkative it is seen as an individual trait; when a woman talks a lot it is seen as a characteristic of all or most women.”
This mouth stopper (circa 1950s) reflects and shapes stereotypical thinking.
“Words are power. Taking away the ability to talk is a way of subjugating people. Saying they talk too much is a way of saying ‘don’t talk,’” the sign read
Indeed, words are power. Many students in the library had difficulty forming them when looking at the images of intolerance.
“I’ve heard about it but I’ve never had the opportunity to attend before now. I’m definitely very interested in this history,” Szparagowsi said.
Rathbone believes the reason these images are so powerful is because it displays what most people know or remember learning.
“It’s just staring you in the face, y’know?” she said. “We see racism and sexism in newspapers or in textbooks or we talk about them, but seeing them right in front of you is really different.”
The group of students respectfully moved up and down the aisles. They were silent as they stared at a cartoon of a white baby boy in handcuffs.
“ARREST WHITE BABIES” the image said. “BEFORE THEY BECOME child molesting, serial killing, blue eyed, mother f–ing devils.”
This intense image all began with a radio talk show in 2005 with William Bennett.
Bennett, who held prominent posts in the administration of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, told a caller on his syndicated radio talk show, “If you wanted to reduce crime, you could – if that were your sole purpose – you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down.”
He added, “That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.”
Months before Bennett’s comments, Tshirthell.com sold tees depicting an African American baby wearing handcuffs with the slogan, “ARREST BLACK BABIES BEFORE THEY BECOME CRIMINALS.” After being criticized in the national press, they created the “ARREST WHITE BABIES” tee-shirt to prove they were not racist.
This exhibition shows discrimination and stereotyping as more than just a black/white issue – it’s more pervasive than that.
In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”