Are These Objects Racist?
Yes, in some ways they are. Most show enslaved Africans Americans as powerless, begging, often literally on their knees, for their freedom. They do not demonstrate African Americans agency, such as the many individuals who ran away, freeing themselves, or who worked as leaders in the abolition movement, such as Frederick Douglas or Sojourner Truth.
These objects were made by white people, for white people. While white abolitionists thought slavery was wrong, all but a few believed the stereotypes that people of African descent were inferior and white people to help them achieve their freedom. Images of enslaved Africans as passive supplicants may also have been designed to reassure white audiences that free blacks would pose no threat.