A museum… A good idea but is it enough?

This post is from Geoffrey Vassallucci.

 

African American history is not somehow separate from the American story. It is not the underside of the American story. It is central to the American story”, Barack Obama.

“A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and corrects them”, George W. Bush.

 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) has been inaugurated this week (Saturday, September 24th) in Washington D.C. by President Obama, in front of thousands people. This represents a very long work completion. Indeed, this old project is the product of more than one 100 years of efforts. The idea of honouring the African-American memory dates back to 1915: old black soldiers of the Civil War (1861-1865) ask, in vain, for an erection of a memorial. In 1929, the Congress gives first his agreement but, because of the deep crisis, finally refuses. After many attempts, the project finally takes shape in 2003, at the instigation of George W. Bush, who authorizes its launch. The first stone is laid in 2012.

The realization of this project is more than commendable. This museum represents a considerable progress in the mentalities evolution in the United States. For the Washington Post, the opening of this museum is « a dream coming true ». According to the creators of the NMAAHC, this journey into the dark story of racial relations in the American society has to give the African-American population place back into the national story, while avoiding some pitfalls: going into militancy or risking of “making black people seem like a victim and blaming white people”. The Bush’s commission designed it as a place of closure, allowing to contribute to the “races reconciliation”.

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As I said before, the realization of this project is more than commendable. We feed on the past in order to not make the same mistakes. On this point, this museum has to play a key role in the mentalities evolution. Unfortunately, we cannot deny that the racist acts in the United States never stop increasing. Being a non-American citizen (and possessing an external eye to the situation, and so maybe being misinformed of the current reality), I am asking this question: is all of this today enough in order to change mentalities?

Should the US government not just face the truth? Perhaps the government should implement a much deeper process, much sincere. Is the simple confrontation with the racist past of their country enough to make American citizens realize that manners must evolve today? Is it enough to make them realize that border between Black and White folks do not only belong to the past but is still actual. I think that a much deeper action must be set up by the US government. Learning from the mistakes of his country throughout its history should not only be a choice – visit a museum or not – but should be part of the whole learning system. My opinion is that it should be taught at school, through courses that would underline the past racial issues of the country – such as segregation or slavery – but also explain to children from an early age what the notions of racism, ethnicity or diversity really mean.

Although the opening of this museum fits into a positive dynamic, it seems to me to be worthwhile to remind people that these notions of racism and ethnicity – in the United States as elsewhere – were relevant in the past but are still – and more than ever – a matter of common concern.

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/bridging-past-and-present-the-african-american-museum-opening-is-a-dynamic-celebration/2016/09/24/82ef2a7c-7f70-11e6-8d13-d7c704ef9fd9_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_museum850pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_African_American_History_and_Culture

http://www.france24.com/fr/20160921-washington-musee-histoire-culture-afro-americains-esclavage-noir-obama

https://nmaahc.si.edu/

http://www.courrierinternational.com/une/musee-de-lhistoire-africaine-americaine-un-reve-devient-realite

Obama At African American Museum Opening- Full Speech :

https://youtu.be/CHjM3Tfzl38

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6 Responses to A museum… A good idea but is it enough?

  1. tibblebits says:

    I agree with you that the museum is a serious positive step in the right direction. Will it lead to a complete “fix”, or healing, of the racial divide in America? Hardly, but it is still a step in the right direction. In my opinion, the only real way to completely absolve the American consciousness is reparations. Anything less might be good, but it won’t be enough. There needs to be an effort to correct the wrongs of slavery by engaging with descendants of slaves such that they are given the opportunity to truly succeed. Reparations are a way to do this because they could mean the difference between sending a child to school, or to prison. They could mean the difference between housing for a year, or homelessness. Above all, reparations signify to the rest of America, and the world, that we are at peace with our history as a slave nation.

  2. giamarucci says:

    This was a really great article. I especially agree with the idea of teaching these wrongdoings in school. “Learning from the mistakes of his country throughout its history should not only be a choice – visit a museum or not – but should be part of the whole learning system. My opinion is that it should be taught at school, through courses that would underline the past racial issues of the country – such as segregation or slavery” As an elementary schooler, I remember learning about prevalent social issues such as slavery in a very removed way. Teachers are taught to teach their students it was wrong, not the gory details of how it was wrong. As a third grader, you’d have to water down stories of lashings and other vicious acts slave masters would undo to their slaves in an effort to protect their innocence. Just last year, I learned about the Bracero program and i’ll never forget it. I ran home to tell my parents of the inhumane conditions we had forced temporary workers into, those who were just trying to provide a better life for their families. All for what? Cheap labor? Where was this lesson in middle school? When was I going to learn about the fact that the American people put this program into place, and knowingly would force workers to put in hours of labor in the desert, without food or water and pay them much less than they deserved? Unfortunately, civil rights wrong doing and social issues are very much removed from the education system (those in which acts were committed by the American people of course) and it will take years for the truth about what happened in these time periods to be revealed to students.

  3. cckremer says:

    Your article raises a good point about the necessity of education about these social issues in more than just museums, and I agree wholeheartedly with your point of view. I took a trip to the Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute within the past two years, and it was an enlightening experience as to some of the finer points of the civil rights movement that I had not heard before. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the museum took great lengths to denote that the fight for civil rights and equality did not end at the signing of a mere bill, I overheard a frighteningly large number of museum patrons suggest that the fight for equality had ended at the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or even with the Fair Housing Act of 1968. These were not just one type of people, it was many races and ages, which shocked me even more. This was despite the large number of boards and descriptions that the museum had painstakingly arranged. I think even more than museums or formal education, these should be principal issues brought forth in popular channels that people take seriously. It will not be the easiest process, but it is certainly one that the United States of America should face to improve society.

  4. azwoodland says:

    Geoffrey,

    I found your post to be very insightful!

    I believe that your discussion of the National Museum of African American History and Culture highlights an important thing seen in today’s world: the idea of political tokens.

    Let me give an example.

    I first learned of the idea of a political token from a podcast by Malcom Gladwell. He discussed the former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Gillard was the first female prime minister in Australia, her position seen as a huge victory for women all over the world. However, Gillard resigned three years after taking office because of a sexist smear campaign, led specifically by Tony Abbott.

    Gillard’s election was supposed to be a victory for women. But why did she face so much sexism and criticism? She was supposed to represent progress for women, but instead, her experience, resignation, and eventual retirement from government seemed to be a large set back for women everywhere.

    Why? Because she was a token. Gladwell argues, that by electing Gillard, the electorate felt they had proven something – that they were not sexist, that they believed a woman could do the job. Electing Gillard gave quantifiable proof that they could use to cite their lack of criticism. And the person who lead the sexist charge against her, Tony Abbott? He served as Prime Minister shortly after her resignation.

    Of course, Julia Gillard is a person and the NMAAHC is a museum. But I believe that it’s possible the museum can have the same impact. The construction of the museum can serve, for the government and visitors alike, as a token.

    Let me be clear, I fully support the construction of the NMAAHC and believe it can and will be a place of healing and education, for many of its visitors. But, I am afraid of it becoming an excuse, “We went to this museum! We’re so enlightened! We’re racially aware people now!” or the more extreme, “See, I’m not a racist, I visited NMAAHC.” Visiting the museum should only be an experience to grow as a person, never an excuse for another action.

    While I support NMAAHC, I believe the federal government needs to do more to address race relations in this country. We have taken many steps, but every day we are reminded of how far we need to go. I’m looking forward to visiting NMAAHC the next time I’m in D.C. and hope to learn as much as I can from the experience, and share it with those around me.

    Also, everyone should listen to Gladwell’s podcast.

    Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Lady Vanishes.” Audio blog post. Revisionist History. Panoply Media. Web. 29 Sept 2016.

  5. mschonbe says:

    I think the opening of this museum is a step forward because it does provide the opportunity for education for generations to come. It is very important that a country is accountable for their mistakes and their history which is what this museum symbolizes. It is still necessary to educate children about race relations in this country because it is an ongoing problem. There are still many things going on that prove that racism is definitely far from being history. These concerns need to be addressed directly and schools, teachers and parents need to be honest about educating future generations on the current state of affairs. This ongoing education and social awareness is the only way racism could ever be completely done away with. The opening of a museum and a ceremony is not enough to apologize for the previous actions of our past. The only way to make up for the mistakes of the past is to acknowledge them and take steps to preventing them in the future.

  6. fendogmillionaire says:

    I think the real issue with the continued racism in America isn’t necessarily a failure to look into the past, but rather a failure to acknowledge the present. The root of the issue seems to be that in the 1960s we created this narrative that we finally ended what slavery started and what the reconstruction period had extended. There seems to be a prevalent idea in American culture that once we sit down and take a look at a problem, we solve it and then move on. A cursory glance around us reveals that this hasn’t been the case, but the issue is difficult to spot for many Americans because black communities in America often tend to be very segregated – which is of course a clear indicator that our supposed change didn’t work – and thus a great many people haven’t physically seen the lack quality of life improvement. In a lot of ways I think you’re right that we need to more openly address this issue, because it’s this lack of awareness that allows the problem to continue. However, I don’t think we necessarily need to be looking to the past in terms of racial awareness. I’ve yet to meet somebody in the current generation that isn’t aware of slavery and at least some of the horrible details, and it is mandatory education in many states. Thus it’s not awareness of the past that we need, but rather we need to shift our mentality to today and to the future. Now, I don’t think we necessarily need to go as far as to give reparations – mostly due to the the troublesome nature of actually implementing them – but we need to acknowledge that the systems that were put in place years ago have ended up creating a society that is still racist, even if the actual trappings of racism are gone. Thus, the opening of this museum is supposedly another step in repairing race relations for years of slavery, but by focusing on the past we do a great injustice by not taking policy to fix the future.

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