Discrimination isn’t ancient history. A new museum shows the truth of that [Museum of African-American History]

The debate over group specific narratives and museums, versus a more horizontal approach. There is place for both:

“Perhaps,” said Barack Obama on the museum portico on opening day, “it can help a white visitor understand the pain and anger of demonstrators in places like Tulsa and Charlotte . . .  It reminds us that routine discrimination and Jim Crow aren’t ancient history, it’s just a blink in the eye of history. It was just yesterday. And so we should not be surprised that not all the healing is done. We shouldn’t despair that it’s not all solved.”

“A great nation does not hide its history,” said George W. Bush, under whose administration was raised the majority of the half-billion dollars that the new museum’s construction consumed. “It faces its flaws and corrects them. This museum tells the truth that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains.”

…“So much African-American history has been erased, stepped over, or labelled as not in the picture,” Gloria Powell told Maclean’s on opening weekend. She was 85, a retired nurse and nursing educator from Sacramento, Calif., who spent her working life in Harlem.

“Most of the Caucasian population, and a huge section of the African-American population, do not have any idea of our history,” Ms. Powell said. “We were people who were brought here. We didn’t come here to escape religious persecution, we were lifted from our land and our homes and our families. If you become educated about who we are, you will find that you guys no longer need to be afraid of us.”

But there is another dimension to the opening of the African-American museum, which, like the National Museum of the American Indian a few blocks closer to the U.S. Capitol, advances the fragmentation of the Smithsonian into an archipelago of separate-but-equal edifices a sort of institutional apartheid. Across 14th Street, the National Museum of American History retains only a handful of objects related to African-Americans, including jazzman Dizzy Gillespie’s cantilevered trumpet, a photo of hair-care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, and—removed from all context and potency—a lunch counter from Greensboro, N.C., that once was at the nucleus of the integration struggle.

Backed by such celebrities as Eva Longoria and Emilio Estefan, a commission to study the potential creation of the National Museum of the American Latino has been endorsed by Congress, and a man named Sam Eskenazi, formerly of the (non-Smithsonian) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, has been lobbying for a decade for a National Museum of the American People to celebrate waves of immigration.

“All the Smithsonian museums are artifact-driven,” Eskenazi told Maclean’s, brandishing endorsements from groups representing dozens of ethnic groups from the Albanians to the Welsh. “My model is story-driven. My museum covers everybody.”

Source: Discrimination isn’t ancient history. A new museum shows the truth of that. – Macleans.ca

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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