Symbols Of White Supremacy Confront Oregon Shoppers At Antiques Mall
Mass protests have brought attention to racism in systems, actions and beliefs. But as 15-year-old Lily Gallentine discovered, hate can also take shape in objects.
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
America's reckoning with racism extends to some seemingly benign places, like an antique mall. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Emily Cureton has this report. And a heads up - her story includes hate speech and a description of a racist threat.
EMILY CURETON, BYLINE: The floor is a creaky maze at this antique store in Redmond, Ore.
Decoy ducks, vintage toys, old leather jackets, a Remington typewriter.
And at first glance, one of the display cases full of knickknacks looks a lot like dozens of others.
LILY GALLENTINE: I had to take almost like a second look. Like, wait, like, am I seeing that right?
CURETON: When 15-year-old Lily Gallentine came to this store to look for Hot Wheels, she found...
LILY: A bunch of different Nazi pins.
CURETON: And among the swastikas, there were racist caricatures from the United States.
LILY: Saying coon and monkey, and there was a Black doll in the background.
CURETON: All this was happening about two months ago. Lily remembers feeling a rush of adrenaline and fear as she called her mom, Andrea Utz, over to the case.
ANDREA UTZ: I think we were just kind of a little stunned and then disappointed and then just like, ugh, here we go again.
CURETON: Again, because last summer, the family was confronted with racism in their own neighborhood.
LILY: We put up a Black Lives Matter sign in our yard, and not - maybe like a day or two later, it was stolen. It was gone.
CURETON: So they got another sign.
LILY: And then, probably a day later, we were just sitting at the dinner table having dinner, and the doorbell rang.
CURETON: The sign was gone again. And on the porch, they found a watermelon, often used as a racist symbol, the letters BLM carved into it. Lily's mom, who is white, is still shaken.
UTZ: I'm not going to let my daughter, who's a person of color, walk around - even with her friends, you know - alone at night here.
CURETON: The town where they live is 90% white. That's no accident. It has intentional roots. Oregon's constitution originally forbade Black settlers from moving to the state. Black exclusion laws were on the books until the 1920s.
A few days after Lily saw symbols of white supremacy at the Central Oregon antique mall, I went to see them for myself.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Are you looking for a certain thing?
CURETON: I'm looking for a case of Nazi memorabilia and blackface dolls.
Swastika pins were $36 apiece, for sale on the same shelf as an ashtray showing a blackface caricature.
Are you the owner here, by chance?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No. No.
CURETON: The store's owner is Ike Abbas. He didn't want to be recorded, but he did defend the items in the case as historical objects. Still, after reporting from Oregon Public Broadcasting, Abbas faced a backlash, and most of the items were removed.
MARK PITCAVAGE: The only audience that is going - you know, that would be into racist, Black Americana, as well as Nazi memorabilia, you know, presumably would be a racist audience.
CURETON: Historian Mark Pitcavage monitors extremism for the Anti-Defamation League. He says selling these things sends a troubling message.
PITCAVAGE: You have to treat these items very carefully.
CURETON: One person who's made a career of learning to be careful with them is sociologist David Pilgrim.
DAVID PILGRIM: Growing up a multiracial, Black-identified kid in the Deep South in the last days of Jim Crow, I thought about race a lot.
CURETON: Pilgrim was about 12 when he got his first racist artifact at a flea market, a saltshaker that he destroyed. Decades later, he founded the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan. Pilgrim refers to its holdings as propaganda.
PILGRIM: Because when we show these racist depictions in cookie jars, in toys, in games, in everyday objects, it's a very sneaky way to spread those ideas.
CURETON: The idea is to portray Black people as subservient, foolish, evil or less than human.
PILGRIM: Those Jim Crow ideas, those Jim Crow representations, those Jim Crow lies morphed into and continue to exist in the present.
CURETON: For instance, among the newer items in the museum, former President Barack Obama is depicted as a monkey. For Oregon teen Lily Gallentine, it's progress that a local antique store removed racist and anti-Semitic items.
LILY: I just try to remember, like, hey, this is the reason why I'm going to protests and I'm educating myself and educating others and raising my voice.
CURETON: But that comes at a cost. There are two new additions to her family's yard - a Black Lives Matter sign and a security camera. For NPR News, I'm Emily Cureton in Redmond, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.