Object 3: Racially segregated bathroom sign

May 27, 2021


Being a student in an international school who uses social media, I realise how privileged I am, and this makes me want to understand where discrimination originates and why it is still present. This object was chosen so I could investigate this problem.

This restroom sign from 1929 is from the Jean Byers Sampson
Center for Diversity at the University of Southern Maine in
Portland. It explores U.S. segregationist policies, demonstrating
how, based upon belief in the existence of racial categories, the
U.S. produced ‘knowledge’ leading to a hierarchy of superior and
inferior races. However, the more society experienced, the more it understood that racism was not just name-calling, but a systematic denial of equality. Their values changed and so did the production of knowledge, done through the use of activism and leadership, leading to the start of change regarding segregation.

It is interesting for this exhibition because it divides humankind into different biologically distinct groups, useful for justifying discrimination. This suggests that society had no positive values regarding African Americans, as they were socialized into discriminating based on faulty biological knowledge, such as believing black people had smaller brains, a manifestation of racist values. However, the more anatomical knowledge developed, the more their values changed, so this sign highlights how values regarding black people were negative. Over time, the values that white Americans possessed imposed a negative value to African-Americans.

If American society at that time had not held such values, discriminatory actions would not have occurred: if their values accepted all races equally then the production of knowledge would change, people would become more aware of this injustice and nothing would have justified discrimination. Therefore, when our values change this changes what society accepts as knowledge, we are then able to decide as a society what is worth investigating and not.

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