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Sambo  

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Gil
 Gil
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Today in class, Mr. Chisnell brought up a question, but we did not directly think of answers. I would like to discuss it with you guys...Why did Mary have a Sambo? From what I can understand, it seemed like white families weirdly bought them to put on their mantles, a way of showing their superiority, justifying their racism in a way. It is an insult to African Americans, so why would Mary have it? Is a way of embracing history slightly, a reminder of  the problems towards race? Or is it actually the opposite-ignoring the problems and just accepting things the way they are? I'm curious to hear your thoughts...


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abuzz
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While I don't quite know why Mary would have the Sambo in her house, it is interesting to think that white people displayed them as superiority. Mary used it as a door stop. It may be that she wants to ridicule the white people and show that they are not above anyone. I feel that she recognizes the importance of history and is a very welcoming person, but by using this white symbol of power for something as simple as a door opener it's almost a mockery of the white people that do display the Sambo as a status symbol. The history of slavery, oppression, and inequality hasn't been forgotten so her usage of the Sambo for something so elementary seems to denote the usage whites have for it.


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xwing37
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I too had this question and I feel like Mary has it almost as acceptance to what has happened in the past. But this still doesn't make any sense to me because it's clearly racist and I feel like even if you came to terms with what happened in the past, you wouldn't display it. If white people have it to show superiority then what does it mean when a black person has one?


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SnowyYeti
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@xwing37 hmmm... the way that you phrased that last question intrigued me.  The coin bank is a symbol of superiority for whites, so what does this mean if black people have it.  Maybe, Mary had this Sambo because she knew that it was offensive to black people, and that whites used to to show that they were dominant, and if she had one, it took the power away from those white people that had them?


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abuzz
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I thought of something else while reading. I remembered in Chapter 19 that Brother Tarp points the the poster named "After the Struggle: The Rainbow of America's Future" with the people of different races all together in a colored photo. When he explained that people post this photo with holy quotes and believe that all is well, it reminded me of the symbolism of the Sambo in homes. The very name of the poster is ironic because there still has been no after the struggle. History cannot just be forgotten and posted like all is right in the world. I just thought that is was an interesting comparison. 


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Jackson Von Habsburg
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I really don't know why mary had sambo. I was spending a lot of time thinking about why she would have the sambo. Maybe it is some sort of self concsious reminder of how other people see african americans that way. Like i said i dont think she is like dr bledsoe where she is acting anti black to cope with they way society treats her. What i really think that is something that we will have and go and find out as we read with the chapters. What i really think is that we will soon see is the multitude of black perpesctives in america. so I think the author wants us to go and judge mary without knowing everything about her


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MangoMan
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@jacksonvon I'm with you on this, I'm still thinking why she had Sambo but I have a theory.  Perhaps with the time they were living in, having Sambo made her seem more like a "average" person.  What I mean by this is that at the time most white folks maybe had something like this in their home because they were either racist or didn't know any better.  I think by Mary having Sambo she seemed like more of an "average white person" knowing the time she may not be even doing it to fit in, but rather to be treated better.  This is of course just a thought and I'm open to your thoughts.


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DeepThought
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I think the reason Ellison had Mary have the coin bank was to show that Mary wasn't interested with actively promoting equality. Mary was shown with a mindset similar to W.E.B. DuBois. She was just trying to build up the black community she lived in by providing housing to people who needed it. I think she had the Sambo to show that she had a different mentality than IM who is focused on trying to actively promote equality in a similar way to Booker T. Washington. Mary was just trying to "stay in her lane" and focus on small local people as opposed to widespread change, and I think the coin bank was intended to help show this.


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SnowyYeti
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IF  YOU ARE NOT AT CHAPTER 20 YET SKIP THIS THERE IS SPOILERS (or don't, just thought I would warn you)

I have an inquiry about chapter 20 that I think deserves some conversation and I thought that the Sambo topic would be perfect for it.  After IM is sent back into an empty harlem office because of Brother Clifton's absence and left out of the strategy meeting, he is frustrated and goes out to buy a pair of shoes and after that, he finds Brother Clifton, SELLING SAMBO DOLLS.  Brother Clifton was selling sambo dolls.  I read over this part a few times and still have no clue, how in such short time, that Clifton goes from working with the Brotherhood, to selling sambo dolls on the street and I would like some of your opinions on this part of the chapter.  


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TheBoulder
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@snowyyeti I mean, Clifton just "figured it out" so to say, quicker than IM. The last line of Chapter 20 is "I'd been asleep, dreaming". He also says that no change has been made. Maybe Clifton realized that no change was coming from The Brotherhood, and his best personal option was to profit from the society as it is, as racist as it may be. Obviously Sambo would be a great way to bring a rise out of IM considering how much it angered him at Mary's. 

In terms of the Sambo at Mary's, I don't know for sure. We only find out about the Sambo when IM is leaving to join The Brotherhood, this racial equality movement. Perhaps the destroying of the jar could serve as a symbol of IM leaving this world of his behind and attempting to get rid of this racism. Everyone is a victim of the society they live in, it is easier to adapt to racist symbols when they are already so ingrained in culture. I would think that Mary might have the Sambo for this reason, to show how someone as kind and understanding as Mary would, like everyone else, fall victim to racist stereotypes.


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Madams43
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I think the reason she had a sambo is to just take the power away from the object and the superiority complex it gives white people. Her owning something that is supposed to represent racism and oppression makes it so the doll no longer represents those things, at least not to her. It also gives the message that she won't allow herself to be put into the stereotypes that are placed on the doll. 


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stella
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@madams43, I think you make a good point here. When I read this I didn't really look at this as why Mary had a sambo figure but more of the symbolism, why was this included in the book. At first, IM appreciates Mary and all that she does for him but after he meets Brother Jack IM begins to think differently about Mary. He seems to be ashamed of her and the world that she lives in, the people banging on the pipes, bugs, and overall poverty. After he begins to think this IM attempts to smash the sambo figure. This made we wonder if the sambo figure was supposed to represent Mary, or maybe represent IM's past way of living that he has now become ashamed of. 


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MSAR
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The power that the Sambo had upon society back then was felt like something that is real holding African Americans down. What I mean by this is that the Sambo is a symbol of power that the whites still held during that america. It was everywhere to remind the African Americans who is running the "show". Now the reason as to why she had it in her possession is still troubling to, if someone wouldn't mind explaining


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SnowyYeti
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@theboulder  I guess that way of understanding why Clifton would be selling sambo dolls makes sense, but part of me doesn't want to believe it.  Not one bit.  Instead of just quitting the fight, like we know IM does by the end of this book, he quits the fight and sells racist figurines??? That just doesnt add up to me at all.  I guess he was making a profit but that cant be the only reason.  There are so many other ways to be making money!


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Persephone
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I'd have to agree with @madams43 in saying that Mary has a sambo doll as a way to take the power back from white people. While the white people used it as a racist decoration to feel superior, Mary is using it as a door stop as a way to show that maybe it doesn't bother her per se. In other words, she's trying to show that this silly doll won't make her feel bad about her culture. Although, it could be that she just doesn't care about the racist connotations like @leinweber was saying, and that she isn't that worried about fighting for equality. Hopefully this is clarified later in the book, because this intrigues me.


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