The Slutty Eye: Ugly Americana

Emma Jean's is a scrupulously tidy antique store that smells like fresh flowers instead of the usual dust. Among the store's old jazz records, 1950s men's suits, and charming paintings of dogs, there is another surprise: a display of astonishingly racist artifacts. Store owner Thomas Grant, a tall, goateed African-American man, points out a mint-condition plate and kids' menu from the Coon Chicken Inn, which stood until the late '50s on the corner of Northeast 85th Street and Lake City Way, where Ying's Drive-In is now. The restaurant's logo was a hideously caricatured black man in a porter's cap, the name of the restaurant spelled out on his teeth. Grant's collection also includes mammy salt and pepper shakers, "Zulu Lulu" glassware, and a "Jolly Nigger Bank." Artists sometimes employ racist imagery to create uncomfortable, complicated effects—Kara Walker, for one, who's shown at Greg Kucera, uses the most offensive stereotypes possible—but Grant's intentions are simply educational. "People need to know these things existed," he says. The items are not for sale, though Grant may be willing to donate them to the Northwest African American Museum at some point. "I used to sell some pieces," he says, "but I found I couldn't be sure why people were buying them. One woman said, 'Because they're cute!' And...um...no." 

 
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