All Day, Black Lives Matter, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Slavery, Social Activism -

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is beyond real and it might be too much for some people to handle

All Day, Black Lives Matter, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Slavery, Social Activism -

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is beyond real and it might be too much for some people to handle

After visiting America’s black history museum Wednesday, I have one major concern. It’s not with the content. That’s incredible. It’s not with the building. It’s majestic. It’s with the application of the reality. The exhibit starts on a subterranean level that takes you back not just to slavery as a loose and overarchingly complex and terrible moment in time, but to a very specific creation of America from a historical standpoint. Many people just plainly might not be able to deal.

It explains how race was an important factor in solidifying the social order that would make such a thing as slavery possible. It points out that slavery among Africans as a system, not dissimilar to systems of servitude that also ruled Europe, was brutal but somehow sustainable. There are multitudes of graphics pointing out very specifically which European nations did what, and how they profited. What’s made clear in no uncertain terms is exactly how white settlers and landowners profited from free labor, and not just in an ethereal “oh, this was horrible” kind of way.

There is a portion that points out why, for many plantation owners, it was literally more profitable to work African slaves to death, rather than keep them alive. Even for someone who’s seen slave-dealing ports in Africa and the Deep South, there is a very jarring historical reality to having it all laid bare in such a clear manner. It wouldn’t surprise me to see people getting into arguments at the museum over the content. And if a white guy named Davenport and a black guy named Davenport are doing it, that’s an awkward reality to confront right there in the exhibit.

Just think of a room full of people doing their best “well, actually” lines in a Smithsonian museum because they can’t deal with the basic reality of their own roots. The tour guides are going to have the hardest jobs in the world. That’s the problem with supremacy and privilege. When it’s challenged or questioned, you begin to believe that you are, in fact, the one dealing with oppression because it’s a dramatic paradigm shift from your world.

So to walk by column after column detailing the hundreds of thousands of people who were brought to each state for a specific reason, there’s no way that the “oh, my grandma’s racist, but she’s not deplorable because she baked me cookies” argument even begins to fly. Reading the numbers of exactly how much wealth was obtained via black backs on a Smithsonian wall is beyond moving. The fact is it’s not about Ku Klux Klan gear-waving white folks or sellout black folks, it’s basically greed that fueled the largest human trafficking operation in history. Reconciling that is not an easy thing to do.

I’m not a historian, but I’ve learned a few things, to borrow and bastardize a relatively famous lyric. There are artifacts and trinkets that will widen the eyes of history geeks. But there are plenty of people who will be moved by the basic amount of information available about this country’s and perhaps more specifically the globe’s original sin. You don’t have to walk up to every placard and read the fine print to get a VAST education on how slavery created the very concept of industry.

Before this, the National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam was the best museum-level application of telling the story of slavery I’d ever seen. The NMAAHC outdoes it by a wide margin. Upstairs, there are tons of more fun, enriching and celebratory installations and things to make you smile through the struggle. But that bottom floor is as hardcore as it gets.

If Dabo Swinney and Clemson win the national championship and come to Washington, D.C., to be honored by the president, I hope he and his team make a trip to see it.


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