Letters to the Museum

Racist Images In Danish Culture

I have recently moved to Denmark from Louisiana. Last week I was at the National Museum in Copenhagen with my daughter. In the museum's shop, I was shocked to see on prominent display a book that the Danes have titled "Lille Sorte Sambo" alongside mechanical banks depicting racist caricatures. Though I am not an expert, I was an instructor of English and Humanities at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette until just this spring, and these items, as I far as I could tell, do not figure into any exhibit, with the idea that perhaps the book and bank were meant to be understood in a historical context meant to give patrons an understanding of Denmark's racist past and, as far as I have seen, racist present.

I sent an e-mail in English (I start Danish school in two weeks) to the museum and received this reply:

Dear Jay Karr:

Thanks for your mail.

I am the book seller/buyer of the Museum Shop, and I am very sorry to hear that you feel hurt and offended by the book. I agree of course that "Lille Sorte Sambo" displays native Africans in a grotesque way and that it is an image of the West's racist past. My point for displaying and selling the book today is exactly that: It is grotesque to a degree that makes it hard to take seriously anymore, and it reminds us, the white West, of our recent, not at all glorious past, from which we should be ashamed and learn! To learn from history, we must not forget, and the book is a kind of historical source, you could say. Being married to an African man myself, I can assure you that it is not an act of racism on my behalf, nor on the Museum's.

I hope that you see my point and that you feel a little comforted -- please do not hesitate to contact me in case you have any questions or comments.

Best regards, Maj Jorgensen
Book Seller, Museum Shop, National Museum
There are no books on the subject of art and racism. There are no other depictions of people of color other than of ancient Egyptians. Her reply seems insensitive to how these images negatively affect people today. Her reply also seems ignorant to how I believe the images reinforce the racist images seen in Danish culture today. . . .I was hoping that as a scholar and curator you could give the National Museum some insight that might influence the gift shop to either stop selling these caricatures or at least place them in the context of race today. . . .I will continue to press the issue here.

I thank you for your time,

Jay Karr
Denmark

-- October 25, 2007


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