Earlier this year, I was in Washington DC with some free time in the afternoon, so I drove straight to the National Mall. There are various great Smithsonian museums. The National Air and Space Museum is worth a visit just to see the Grumman Gulf Hawk. The American History Museum displays the original Stars and Stripes, the battered Fort McHenry flag. The National Portrait Gallery showcases newly discovered Lincoln paintings.
None of them were considered.
Instead, we headed to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. When I last visited Washington in the summer of 2016, the place wasn’t open yet so I had to.
As I was crossing the mall, I got a call from a relative who happened to be in town. He also had free time. do you want to get together? I asked him if he wanted to go with me to the Museum of African American History and Culture.
“No,” he said.
Nothing more. Just “no”.
The answer, though disappointing, was not surprising. History can have a mandatory, bean-eating quality, even if it’s not the history of a people other than your own. Many Americans say “no” to most history, but especially to black history—an unfortunate compulsion that is taking hold as law in states across the country. Ron DeSantis lashed out at black history Wednesday when announcing his candidacy for president.
Of course he used the code. People like him exaggerate what they are against as the “awakened mind virus” and “critical race theory”, the fictional boogeyman who insults and abuses children. But if you exaggerate that rhetoric, they’re simply bleaching American history, bleeding it white, and alienating those who believe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place, and shouldn’t be here now. I’m just there.
Given my job, I have the expertise to find ways around the first “no”.
“Have you eaten?” I asked. he didn’t. wonderful. …oh… see you at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They definitely have a restaurant. eat. Then let’s step in. It’s free. If you don’t like that, that’s fine. Move on. But at least look. Did I mention it’s free?
It worked. We met up and headed down to Sweet Home’s Cafe, a large, bustling restaurant in the basement. Stuffed with pulled pork, mac and cheese, collard greens and cornbread. A dish that makes you feel relieved when you eat it. The back wall was adorned with a giant panorama of lunch counter protests in the early 1960s. Perfect. For now, looking around, I could see Americans of all races happily dining in the near shadow of the Washington Monument. That’s progress, right?
The museum gave me the impression that it was some sort of inverted US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust Museum begins in community and ends in horror. This starts with fear and ends with community. The lower floors were given to the transatlantic slave trade, while the upper floors celebrate the profound cultural impact blacks had and had on nation and world (there were enough props to Chicago, including the alcove) The Shrine of the Defender and Oprah Winfrey). This part was fun for me, but not as impressive for my younger friend. If you don’t know what Parliament-Funkadelic is, watching George Clinton’s Mothership won’t do much. I understand that.
Some history is cruel, but Florida people take notice, and none of it made me feel bad about myself. Probably because I don’t see the Confederates as my team. This is black history, but it is not black history. Not exclusive. It’s my history, it’s the history of the country I love, and the story “El Dorado” that begins with the iron chain and ends with Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac has many elements, first of all, very American, but ” “Unteachable” is not one of them. It is very strange that shameless people pretend that it brings shame and try to erase it.
The genius of the civil rights movement is that its demands are modest. In 1960, black Americans were not protesting for their right to bring their white daughters to prom. They wanted to vote, they wanted to sit at the Woolworths lunch counter and eat cheeseburgers. Anyone who doesn’t agree with it, who shows up and yells and shoots Coke out of their head is clearly a hater and is blaming themselves.
“Black Lives Matter” is no different. Is there a more modest demand? It would have to be a very self-centered fool to proudly say, “No!” My life matters! (“Does your child have cancer? So what! My child skinned his knee.”) Yet they do. There is no end to the selfish fools. They have their own political party. If you choose to belong and you don’t see it, don’t whine at me.
The museum has a recreation of the North Carolina lunch counter where the sit-in began in 1960. I sat down to rest my legs.
Music piped in, including the old union song “Which Side Are You On?”
Which side of the boy are you on?
which side are you on?
That’s it, I thought. In a nutshell. period. full stop. Either you are on the side of the oppressed and the suffering, whoever they are. Aggressive miner. Freedom Rider. Or they may side with those who hate them or those in power. bosses. oppressors.
It is very strange that ignorant and oppressed people are often duped into taking sides with their oppressors. Say a few trendy phrases about the facts you don’t like and off you go to the race. Being young also helps. They think they’ve invented the world, but they’ve just come along, when in reality they don’t know anything yet. My companion and I drove through the museum in 3 hours for him (because I was scheduled to attend dinner), but it could have taken twice as long. On my way out, I asked him how he felt after visiting the museum.
“That’s fine,” he said. He was happy to hear that. If ignorance is a quagmire, history helps.