How Race is Considered in Scrapbooks Reflects American Culture

Each Wednesday, I write a post from my dissertation.

This is the last post on race and ethnicity from my dissertation. (You can read the other two posts here and here.)

The way stories are told in scrapbooks typically emphasize narratives of achievement. This is understandable. I know I have a tendency to focus on the hard work that I put forth towards achieving my goals. At the same time, focusing on an achievement-narrative fails to acknowledge any privilege we might have due to our race, class, gender or some other demographic factor.

Another issue to consider is how scrapbooks overall, are racially segregated in that most of the people included in scrapbooks are the same race. This is a product of the segregated lives in which most Americans tend to live (most Americans live in segregated neighborhoods, attend segregated schools and churches, and so on) with few Americans having friends or family members of another race. Racially segregated scrapbooks create boundaries between who belongs and who does not. Cases where racial others are included (as friends or family), are notable exceptions. Most often, racial others are included because they are in the background of a photograph.

Race and ethnicity may not be a major theme of scrapbooks but they do play a role in some scrapbooks some of the time.

More importantly, how race is considered in scrapbooks reflects our larger American culture. (And the same most likely holds true in other nations.) I think it says more about our larger culture than about individual scrapbookers, however, individuals do have the power to change this culture. As long as most Americans live racially segregated lives, the content of scrapbooks will also remain racially segregated. As long as we focus on achievement-narratives, we fail to notice how our own privilege has helped our achievements along.

Something else to consider is that scrapbooking is a way for Americans to be American. Though scrapbookers may emphasize their racial or ethnic roots at least occasionally in their scrapbooks, what they are mainly doing is emphasizing their Americaness. Instead of emphasizing race and ethnicity, people (American scrapbookers) may be using scrapbooks to emphasize their Americaness (think about all those 4th of July  and 9/11 layouts).

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