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Ask Amy

Professor wants to be rid of racist books

Q. I am a retired college professor who did years of research about American slavery and slaveholders.

I own a set of very racist 19th-century books that were part of my research.

It is now time for me to reduce the size of my library, but I am afraid to sell these books because, given the mood in our country today and the rise of white supremacy, I’m afraid these books will be bought by people who will be reinforced in their racist ideologies.

I know they can get the books in other ways (if they knew about them), and I don’t believe in burning books. I have offered them to several libraries but to no avail. I am very worried about what to do.

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Concerned PhD

A. Researching possible solutions for you, I recommend trying the Jim Crow Museum, housed at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich.

This is from the museum’s website (ferris.edu/jimcrow): “The Jim Crow Museum is the largest publicly accessible collection of segregation and racist artifacts in the United States. These objects are used to teach tolerance and promote social justice. The Museum is free and open to the public; therefore, the Museum is largely dependent on donations — financial and in-kind — to enhance its work.”

Photos of various exhibits from the museum show a wide variety of curated bigotry — gathered for the purpose of educating the public about the deep shame of America’s racist history.

Pointedly, the museum’s website notes that they are currently being somewhat flooded with donations. I take this as a good sign, as Americans become more sensitive to the books, films, toys, products, signage, and other cultural messages that only a generation ago might have seemed acceptable (or merely embarrassing) to white Americans, but are now quite appropriately seen for what they are: abhorrent signifiers of racism.

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The museum might have ideas for how to handle your books.

Otherwise, I well understand your reluctance to burn these books. However, if you are not able to place them in a reputable collection, and if you believe that these books are NOT unique and represent historical racist ideas readily available elsewhere to scholars, then I think you should consider destroying them in a symbolic fashion. Perhaps you could shred them and add the shredded material as mulch for a garden. Let something beautiful or nutritious grow from these ugly ideas.

Mark the occasion by donating to a cause furthering racial understanding. Perhaps the Jim Crow Museum could use funding to add staff to handle their growing collection.

Q. A year ago, I found out that my wife had been secretly talking to another guy.

Three weeks ago, she came clean to me about sleeping with him last year and having a brief affair with him.

I don’t know what to do when it comes to the marriage at this point. I’m not sure if we should work it out or if we should get divorced.

I feel like I can’t forgive her, but I also don’t want to lose my family.

I’m very hurt and all I keep thinking about is what she did with him. I keep having these images in my head. Please, help me?

Hurt Husband

A. I want to assure you that you can forgive your wife. But will you? That is up to you.

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Forgiveness after such an undeserved betrayal is a very heavy lift. If you and your wife want to stay married — for whatever reason — she must share this burden with you. This means that she should admit, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and make amends. In this context, amends would involve a stated, steady desire to regain your trust, as well as working with you to repair the damage to your marriage.

A therapist can work with the two of you if you choose to attempt to repair your relationship; a therapist working with you alone can help you to cope with this betrayal.

Q. “Worried” had the gall to speculate about a baby’s DNA and racial heritage, and then was stupid enough to ask, “Am I terrible for thinking this?”

I was cheering when I read the first line of your answer: “Yes, you’re pretty terrible.”

As the parent of biracial siblings who have very different skin tone from each other, I appreciate that you seem to understand the nuance of skin color.

Proud Parent

A. Thank you. Even if I didn’t understand racial nuance, I definitely know when something isn’t anyone else’s business.


Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.