In Master of None’s fourth episode, Dev (Aziz Ansari) goes on a series of awkward and entertaining first dates with different women, including one, Christine (Lauren Miller), with whom he makes it all the way back to the bedroom. Everything is going great until she asks Dev to grab a condom from the jar on the dresser—at which point Dev turns over and finds himself looking into the eyes of …
The jar in which Christine keeps her condoms is a ceramic caricature of a rotund, black-skinned woman wearing a bonnet and apron, her hands on her hips. Dev is visibly startled, but his hesitation lasts only a moment as he goes ahead and pops off the jar’s lid, pulls out a condom, and gets down to business. Afterward, he points out to Christine, who is white, that the jar is kind of racist, and she’s shocked.
“You can’t use that shade of black to depict African-American people!”
“No one else has ever been offended by it.”
When Dev asks whether any black people have ever seen the jar, a gift from one of her friends, she responds, “I haven’t had any African-American guests.” She is genuinely surprised that this jar would be considered offensive—not to mention incredulous that Dev had sex with her despite thinking she’s a bigot. When she kicks him out of her apartment, he suggests that maybe she show it to a black person sometime and gauge their reaction.
The jar, which hilariously is accompanied by an ominous gong every time it shows up onscreen, is a point of contention that shows that Christine and Dev, despite some chemistry, are not a match after all. But this gift she received from a friend is also an example of a very real phenomenon: The collection of “vintage” racist memorabilia. Christine’s condom jar is a clear-cut example of a “Mammy” figure, a caricature of African-American women that dates from around the Civil War and was particularly prominent through the Jim crow era. “Mammies” are depicted as desexualized, hefty women with extremely dark skin and devoted domestic workers who care for white families–think the original Aunt Jemima or Hattie McDaniel’s character in Gone With the Wind (who is literally just called “Mammy”).
Caricatures likes these are blatantly offensive, but, when immortalized in porcelain like the jar on Christine’s dresser, they’re also worth quite a pretty penny. In the twenty-first century, there’s a thriving online marketplace for “antique” Mammy collectibles, which are available on Etsy, eBay, Ruby Lane, and more. And jars in the style of Christine’s seem to be a favorite.
In addition to Mammy jars, there are also piggy banks, dolls, and even salt and pepper shakers floating around out there, with some selling for upwards of a thousand dollars. A fascinating 2016 piece in the New York Times about these kinds of objects shows that some of them are actually collected by people of color. As for what should be done with these items in general, some argue that they should be destroyed, while others think they should be reclaimed by black collectors or preserved for educational purposes. There are even entire institutions dedicated to their conservation, like Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which collects “objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”
So, while Christine definitely needs to reconsider where she houses her condoms, Dev might have had better luck persuading his paramour by quoting the great Indiana Jones: “That belongs in a museum!”