Thursday, September 21, 2006

Advice to home sellers?

Jockeyuva I have heard that some real estate agents sometimes give advice to "de-black" homes when selling them: take down pictures of Malcom X, certainly; pack up the books on civil rights and race riots; probably even hide the posters of Martin Luther King.  I understand the point behind the advice: home sellers want prospective buyers to be able to imagine themselves in the space.

I wonder if real estate agents ought also to tell sellers to de-politicize their homes more generally.  I was led to this observation when I saw a lawn jockey in the backyard of a really lovely home during an open house.  Of course, I'm looking for a good deal, so it doesn't deter me from purchasing the place.  And who knows about the meaning of the lawn jockey to the owners of the house: maybe they kept it as a reminder of the bad old days.  Observers often make different things out of monuments.

So that set me to wondering about this little piece of Americana.  Apparently, they were cast in concrete or iron.  Want one?  Check out ebay's listings.  I thought the lawn jockey had gone out of fashion back in the 1970s, or perhaps even earlier.  However, a quick check of ebay and other internet sites suggests that they're still being made.  Yes, still being made, not just sold.  Some are even of white jockies.  Hmm.  No disputing taste, is there?

That led me to some further investigation.  Dig this: they're not symbols of white supremacy, but tributes to faithful slaves--and perhaps memorials to the underground railroad, because they were used to give signs about where fugitive slaves could find safety. Never heard that one before, but it's all over the internet (and here).  (My colleague at the University of Alabama, Micki McElya, has a brilliant book coming out shortly from Harvard on faithful slave monuments, by the way.  It's worth a read.)  I'd like to see some more research on this one; it has all the ear marks of legend, to me--and to this person, as well.

The photograph, of a nineteenth-century cast iron jockey, is from the University of Virginia's outstanding website on American studies.

UPDATE: Carl Christensen sends along this article from the Washington Post on lawn jockeys as well.  I'm somewhat surprised at the credence they give to the "lawn jockey-as-part- of-underground-railroad" story; I'm also surprised by how little credence they pay to the lawn jockey as monument to the era of slavery and Jim Crow.  On the latter point, see this letter to the editor.

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"I have heard that real estate agents sometimes give advice to "de-black" homes when selling them ..."

Would you mind editing that to read "some real estate agents" rather than the use the all-encompassing phrase that you have? Not all real estate agents behave in the manner that your all-inclusive phrases assumes.

Are there bad ones agents? Yes. Are there closed-minded professors? Sure, but I would (try to) never write something that said all professors were so.

Posted by: Jim Duncan | Sep 21, 2006 12:21:36 PM

I thought real estate agents advised their clients to depersonalize their home, regardless of the client's skin color? From what I understand, all home sellers should remove the personal aspects of their home so that it looks very generic. If the home looks like a blank slate, then prospective home buyers are able to visualize their own personal accents in the home and thus visualize themselves living in the home. I would imagine if a prospective home buyer is visualizing themselves raising their 8 children and growing old in your home that you are at least half way towards convincing them that they have to buy your house.

As an aside, it would have been unfortunate if the home that you had visited had followed the above advice because then you would have never had the opportunity to look up all that information about lawn jockeys.

Posted by: Fern R | Sep 21, 2006 1:46:23 PM

Hi Dan and Fern--thanks for your comments. Dan--I made the change you requested, though I thought it was clear from my post that I was saying some real estate agents not all (with the "sometimes"). I'm happy to make that clarification.

I didn't mean to say that advice was necessarily inappropriate--as Fern points out (and as I say in the post), I think there's something to making the home look like a place that a buyer can envision herself. I think that's pretty standard marketing advice.

Posted by: Al | Sep 21, 2006 4:51:31 PM

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