Racist love notes: adding color to Valentine’s Day

It’s week two of Black History Month, and Americans are gearing up for Valentine’s Day--a holiday characterized by extravagant bouquets, unwanted chocolates and sappy Hallmark cards.

While Valentine's Day may seem like a race-neutral holiday, a professor of African American studies at Northwestern University is bringing back some cards created between 1895 and 1940 that expose not-so-sweet elements of its past: a history of commercial racism.

A closer look at Valentine’s Day cards from the early part of the last century, Professor Harvey Young told The Chicago Reporter, reveals a pattern of commercial racism that has now been confined to auction halls and collectors’ basements. But Young plans to bring some of those images out Thursday evening for a lecture he’s prepared dubbed, “A Racist Love Note.”

Young says that the cards, which have gained popularity within a community of collectors in recent years, tend to depict black characters in three different contexts: scenes of violence, impoverished black children and scenes set on plantations. Many of the cards feature characters with cartoonishly big lips, unrealistically dark skin, unkempt hair and raggedy clothing.

One card, that’s currently being sold on eBay for $2.49, features a young black figure holding an oversized heart, with the words: “Ah hopes you believes in signs.”

Another Valentine’s card that Young found depicts an African-American man with a rope around his neck, tied to a tree. The text reads: “Be mah Valentine. Ill be hanged if yo’ is goins’ to say no.”

Though the images would shock us today, Young said in the early 1900s they hardly bothered the white males who enjoyed mocking people for their poverty and lack of education. These cards were purchased and traded frequently.

"They capture in a material object the racial discourse occurring at the moment,” Young said. “You can really get a sense of how common and everyday and widely accepted these cards were. It gestures to this past moment when racism was more apparent in society.”

When comparing cards today to those of generations past, it becomes clear that the card industry has come a long way. But Young’s presentation, which will be held Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Evanston Public Library, teaches us that racial discourse is embedded in our history and lingers today, even on the most “loving” day of the year.

--Samantha Caiola


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  • This isn't exactly earth shattering. Young could have saved a lot of time and just played old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I think humor's a way for different cultures to get used to each other, even if it's inappropriate, just so long as it's not mean-spirited. The alternative is walking on eggshells and PC behavior, and that just leads to separatism.

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    Wow.. it doesnt surprise me. smh

  • Meanwhile back on planet Earth:

    Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

    Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

    The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

    Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

    What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

    How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

    And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

    But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree that I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

    They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

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