The “icons” in this otherwise mundane, domestic tableau are a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers, a functional object one might see in any American kitchen. Except in this image, the salt-and-pepper shakers on the counter are figured as Mammy and Sambo, respectively. These wide-grinning, subservient figures exemplify American society’s view of enslaved African women and men during the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Imagery such as this existed in present-day commercial products such as Aunt Jemima’s pancakes, which in 2021 was recently rebranded. One recognizes the quiet, social critique that Weems has intended; but for whom are these stereotyping tchotchkes “icons”? We may like to imagine that the American culture that created, marketed, and purchased these racist items is a thing of the past, but, as the picture shows, it has not disappeared. Weems’s photograph captures and speaks directly to pervasiveness of this culture and the subtlety of its evolution, which echoes larger ones within our society.
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