Monday, April 1, 2019

"Gold-Dust Twins" snapshot

This found vernacular photograph measures just 2⅝ inches across. Someone has neatly printed GOLD-DUST TWINS across the bottom of the snapshot of two black women relaxing on a bench.

There's no writing on the back, but the information that came with the photo states that it was part of an estate collection and came from an album that dates to 1918-1920. That's it. Everything else is a mystery.

The Gold Dust Twins were part of the advertising imagery for Fairbank's Gold Dust Washing Powder, dating to the early 1890s. The moniker also came to be used generically during the 20th century, describing dynamic duos in the worlds of sports, entertainment and even politics. But much of the underlying material this was built upon stems from original advertising that is problematic at best and overtly racist at worst.

A 2015 article by Velma Maia Thomas on describes how the U.S. South "embraced" the Gold Dust Twins:
"From their first appearance in the Atlanta Constitution in 1903, the twins were frolicking and scouring. ...White America found solace in its docile Negro. By the turn of the 20th century, many were reminiscing about former slaves— faithful colored 'aunties,' 'uncles,' and 'mammies' — who cared for them and showered them with love and gentle correction. As scholars of the U.S. South have shown, the region’s culture still waxed nostalgic about the Old South. Novels, plays and films cast African Americans as trustworthy, harmless, happy servants. White consumers embraced Goldie and Dustie. Their sunny dispositions and willingness to work made white housewives feel secure. Such images allowed them to bask in a memory of a fabled South where the Negro was content, inferior, and eager to serve."
As the author goes on to describe, the depictions worsened when the popularity of Goldie and Dustie led to many vaudeville performers putting on blackface for acts incorporating the twins.

It's a shame these two women are connected to the Gold Dust Twins' history with the caption on this snapshot. They have their own histories and stories that will likely never be known. That level of mystery is part of the attraction, of course, with vernacular photos that have been removed from their original context. But it's a special shame in instances such as this one.

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