I must preface this post by saying that, since beginning a continuing education class in acrylic painting, I have repeatedly and shamefully violated my two-year-long boycott of Hobby Lobby. I live in a small town whose only art-supply store is smaller than my living room and doesn’t carry the kind of paint I want. I’ve purchased what I can at a Steven’s in a town about 20 minutes away, but I haven’t had the energy to get up to St. Louis to a true art-supply store.
My boycott of HL, of course, has to do with the fact that its conservative Christian owners are intruding on the birth-control choice of their female employees by not covering IUDs, which they consider to be abortifacients. Scientists and medical professionals disagree with this assessment. My own gynecologist is anti-abortion (I should say anti-choice), but she has no reluctance to prescribe IUDs. In fact, if the United States truly wanted to reduce abortions and reduce the number of children living in poverty, the single most effective thing we could do would be to make IUD’s free for any woman of child-bearing age who wanted one. We’d save a lot of money and improve women’s health. But I digress.
I was in HL today to pick up some more paint, and on the way out found myself looking at a statuette (for lack of a better term) in HL’s extensive tick-tacky knick-knackery collection. This, for me, is aberrant behavior. My “knick-knacks” tend to fall into one of three categories: art (especially ceramics, but some glass and metal), seashells (which I no longer collect for environmental reasons), and rock/mineral specimens (ditto).
This statuette, pictured below, is of a (presumably) African woman. There were other statuettes of (apparently) African tribal queens and other African women. This one struck me, though. I liked her dark skin and her head scarf. I liked her simple clothes. I liked her strong hands. I liked her face, which looks older or younger when viewed from different angles and seems simultaneously to express weariness, resignation, pride, and longing. In some sense she seems like Everywoman who works hard just to get through life.
Reader, I bought her, and immediately began having disturbing thoughts. Here we have an statuette of an African woman, made by Asian workers in a Chinese factory* (sweatshop?), now residing in the home of a Caucasian woman of European descent.
Something seems wrong about this on multiple levels.
Was this purchase racist? Dehumanizing? Cultural commodification? Is the statuette itself racist? The woman is wearing a bracelet on one ankle that reminds me uncomfortably of a shackle. Would a black woman buy such a statuette? Would a black woman buy a statuette of a Caucasian American? (I know it isn’t technically proper to refer to U.S. citizens as Americans, since people in Central America and South America are also American, so that’s yet another qualm, but the usage is near-universal.)
I hope at least one black woman out there in the blogosphere will weigh in on this, because I wouldn’t trust anyone else’s opinion. People (well, men, to be specific) have told me at various times in my life that I “think too much.” I’m not sure if that’s the same as over-thinking things, but I would rather over-think than under-think, and I think about lots of things. As soon as I’m strong enough to go to St. Louis—or know enough about art supplies to know what I want to order online—my Hobby Lobby boycott will be reinstated. It can’t come soon enough for my conscience.
But meanwhile I must decide what to think about this woman and whether or not it’s conscionable to keep her.
*My standing joke about Hobby Lobby is that if an alien anthropologist landed in an HL, she would conclude that China was a place that existed solely so that U.S. women could do crafts.