Skin Deep Magic Liner Notes: On “Psychometry, or Gone With the Dust”

It started with a Golliwog.

My late Aunt Lou was going to London to visit the tea and coffee museum there. She collected teapots, (when she died with over 800 of them in her collection). She would be accompanied by her best friend, who I’ll call Kay. Kay had her own agenda. Kay collected black dolls of all kinds. From brown-skinned porcelain beauties, to rustic rag dolls, to openly racist caricatures. She wanted to add a golliwog to her large collection. This was in the days before the Internet, sometime in the late 80s/early 90s. I had no idea of what a golliwog was; they are a distinctly Anglophile phenomenon. I had, however, seen a golliwog before. One of my mother’s old paperbacks was an Agatha Christie mystery novel titled, 10 Little Niggers. (I have no idea how my mother got the novel. The novel was retitled to American audiences as the (then) slightly less offensive 10 Little Indians, but somehow we were in possession of a British edition. The cover of the book featured a lurid imaged of a hanged trollish creature. It was horrible; I thought the novel was actually a horror novel, and not a murder mystery. In retrospect, I realized that this pop-eyed, wild-haired doll was a golliwog. Anyway, before Lou and Kay went off to their English adventure, I remember chatter about black collectors of black memorabilia. What was the allure of frankly unflattering historical (mis)representations? It went beyond kitsch. There’s a whole community of collectors of such items—mammy salt and pepper shakers, nostalgic Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima advertisments, Topsy dolls, and assorted ephemera.

Years later—during the Internet age—I found the excellent Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, and after spending hours there, the seed for the story, “Pyschometry, or Gone With the Dust” was born.

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