The people complaining about the rebranding of Aunt Jemima don’t know history and would rather deny its significance than learn it. They see only an inoffensive picture of a normal woman who happens to be black.
But the people who are offended are not just seeing what is there in front of their eyes right now, laden with no other meaning than could be detected by a Martian who landed here five minutes ago, or by an electronic meter that could analyze and record patterns of shape and color.
The people who are offended are seeing something that was there before and has never entirely departed but still hovers, still swims around that image. Their memory of things they have learned about the past, or if they are old enough, of things they saw for themselves, hovers around, and over, and under things that are optically, measurably before them now. They are psychic pop-art historians, peeling away the layers to see the deeper meaning, without even wanting to.
We all see things that way, at least sometimes. Objects, places, tunes, colors, shapes, vibrations, aromas take on meaning and become symbols. A smile is not just a smile, a kiss is never just a kiss, that mug on my shelf is a souvenir that evokes the friend in that place who gave it to me that time—it is the physical embodiment of a memory. A Roman cross is not just a geometrical shape for a Christian, or for anyone familiar with Christianity. A swastika is not just a geometric shape. Not for anyone familiar with history at all. You don’t blame the person who is terrified and offended by the swastika painted on her front door. The meaning cannot be detected by optical measurements, but it is not her own perverse imagining. It is there. It just has to be detected by a human soul.
My sisters and brothers, you don’t have to be amazed at the stupidity of people who are no longer buying the superficially modernized and laundered Aunt Jemima on that syrup bottle. You could have paid attention in school. You could remember what that label looked like when you and I were kids in the 1960s. You could choose even now to seek out and listen to someone who sees on that bottle something that you don’t see, who hears resonances that you don’t hear, who feels in their gut a knot that you never feel. You could listen, and then you could, partially, at least, know what they know. Maybe feel a little of their pain. Maybe even a little of their anger.
Strangely, I have observed that the very people who are unwilling to listen to what others hear—unwilling to strain their eyes to see what others see, unwilling to step into the pain of others—tend to bang on about how Christian they are. I think they have never read, or have forgotten, what Paul wrote about the brothers and sisters who were unable to eat meat because they remembered things and were offended. When they saw meat, they recalled the pagan sacrificial rites that produced the meat sold in all the markets in their city. They recalled their own involvement in those rites.
Paul knew there was no real power in those pagan rites, because those gods were no-gods. But he had brothers and sisters who could not shake the memory, could not shake the power, who were, so to speak, inevitably triggered by it. They remembered the powerfully enslaving hold the gods had on them before they were freed by Christ.
Paul’s response? He did not call it silly. He did not berate them for not feeling as free as he did. He had never experienced the enslavement they had known. Did he have the right to eat meat? Absolutely! But he did not stand his ground. He did not think of his own need or desire for meat. He said: “If food that I eat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, in order to keep my brother from stumbling.”
Paul was willing to give up meat for the rest of his life to avoid causing offense to a brother or sister, and you, my dears sisters and brothers, can’t give up the denatured black mammy on your syrup bottle?
To avoid offending our other brothers and sisters, you can’t do that? You need to whine and complain, ridicule and accuse?
Let’s see another one of those angry-glurgy reposts of yours about how unashamed you are to proclaim yourself a follower of Jesus right out here on Facebook. My question is how Jesus feels about that. Jesus, who emptied himself and took the form of a slave.
The danger is not that people will think that in this matter you are not behaving as a Christian. It is that they will believe you are.