Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, Greg Pence, currently holds the Indiana Congressional seat that the eventual vice president used to serve in — but he also co-owns a couple of area antiques malls. At these malls, vendors can pay a rental fee to reserve space to sell their goods, and Pence’s company takes a commission off each sale. A new report in the Associated Press reveals that, despite a stated policy at one of the malls against racist items — a policy which shouldn’t be that hard to abide by! — vendors at Greg Pence’s mall have apparently been selling racist items for years.
The Exit 76 Antique Mall in Edinburgh, Indiana, is the establishment in question. According to the Associated Press, the mall features over 4 million items for sale, with 72,000 square feet of space for the vendors, and there are around 600 vendor booths. Jeannine Lee Lake, a black woman who is running against Pence in the Congressional race this fall, has recently helped shine a spotlight on the brazenly racist items among these booths. The items feature imagery that is designed to denigrate black Americans, with depictions like those that were widespread during the Jim Crow area, when segregation was enforced across America.
Lake shares that a woman who’d lived in the area sent her photos of “awful objects degrading and dehumanizing Black people,” and when Lake herself went to look, she says she found “rows and rows” of items that were “mocking Black skin, displaying protruding lips and having bugged out eyes,” which she shares “made [her] want to cry.” Margaret Lowe, who is a pastor in Pence’s district, says that she and her sister brought racist items to the attention of management all the way back in 2008 — which was two years after the Pences purchased the complex — but racist items are still being sold there.
The Associated Press visited Pence’s mall and found “more than three dozen” racist items, they report. A spokesperson recently claimed to The Star Press that he “is not engaged in the active management” of the mall, which he co-owns with his wife, Denise, who together also own another antiques mall in Bloomington through their company the Pence Group LLC. Joyce Bishop, who manages the Edinburgh mall, claimed to the Associated Press that staff “recently completed an audit of merchant booths and cases for potentially offensive materials to ensure compliance to this policy” against the sale of racist items — but it’s unclear when that alleged audit took place.
What is clear is that management has clearly not been effective in their supposed attempts to keep racist items out of the mall. David Pilgrim, who works as the director of Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum, explained to the Associated Press:
‘During the Jim Crow days, these everyday objects — banks, cookie jars, toys, games, postcards, and more — served as propaganda. They were ways of saying: ‘Those people are different from us… We don’t want them in our neighborhoods, schools and churches.’ Are the people buying them for educational purposes? No, of course not. Are they buying them to document racism or to celebrate it?’
Currently, of course, the U.S. is grappling with societally-embedded racism in the face of police violence against black Americans. Trump and his political allies have responded to anti-police brutality protesters by calling for more brutality against the largely peaceful demonstrators.