Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

I Was Afforded the Honor of Writing a Small Piece on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) for Ebony Magazine

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

I Was Afforded the Honor of Writing a Small Piece on the Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) for Ebony Magazine

Article excerpt

I was afforded the honor of writing a small piece on the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) for Ebony magazine. I attended the ceremonial opening (and the indescribably powerful three-day "Freedom Sounds" concert across the street). Beyond that, however, I have refused from my friends who work there any enhanced access to the museum, preferring to use my advantage as a local resident to compete with everyone else for "day-of" tickets to enter and spend full days moving through this remarkable, constantly shifting, convening and curating of Black objects and humanity. I remain convinced that the meaning of the museum will shift with every change in America's social, cultural and economic fortunes and fabric.

The single most moving feeling the NMAAHC evokes comes from observing the perpetual curation of people who come to see its treasures. If only running transcripts could be published of the electric intergenerational conversations between elders in wheelchairs or walking sticks and seas of children, from little boys on the shoulders of their fathers, uncles and brothers to little girls walking alongside their mothers, sisters and cousins. If only an army of photographers could capture and project nightly on its bronze facade the reverence, excitement, anger, joy and deep contemplation in the faces and body language of visitors clustering at its exhibits.

NMAAHC aspires to something both noble and impossible: To narrate American history through an African-American lens. The aspiration reveals the absurdity of its contradiction: The evisceration of America's native population and the enslavement of Africans make for an irreconcilable American past. The Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) embraces that irreconcilability, using it to deliberately convene a hemisphere-wide expansiveness that raises more questions than it attempts to answer. It boldly Invites visitors to do the same. In contrast, the "Blacksonian," as some have begun to call the NMAAHC, gestures toward our literal African foundations before trying to pour our global humanity into a narrow American vessel. In so doing, however (especially in the top floors where the arts render such containers laughably meaningless), it still manages to evoke the same open-ended questioning, albeit in a more circuitous fashion.

African experiences in this settler state cannot be contained in one building or one narrative. …

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