Fourteen hours on a shuttle bus and 7 rest stops later… Oh and one Uber ride– I am FINALLY settled in Washington D.C., for a long weekend with colleagues. I have taken note to give my boss a stern talking to over is choice of direct flight but I am PALPABLY excited. The city is excited. My Uber driver talked to me about how he and his wife made sure to get their timed entry tickets for the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall (NMAAHC). We talked about how crazy a thing it is that in his life he has endured a segregated school in rural Alabama where Jim Crow reigned supreme to having a national museum celebrating what made him second class for so many years of his life. A NATIONAL MUSEUM, PEOPLE!
I am here, blessed in this experience, to be alive post Jim Crow. To be able-bodied and learned. To understand the struggle that comes with my melanin and to be able to live in a time where amongst what seems to be an endless amount of racial tension and disgusting use of stereotyping… reverence is being paid to my main defining characteristic… My blackness. Yes, I am a woman and an American and a hard working tax-paying citizen, but when you look at me I am almost certain you see Black first. And that’s super cool, because I prefer it that way. My dad always told me, “see my difference and you can definitely see what makes us similar”.
But, back to the Museum. This building is A-MAZ-ING. At a pre-function with my organization I was able to meet one of the main architects on the project, the “Starchitect” Phil Freelon. He explained how a young upstart with a grand idea reached out to him and how collaborative the process became. That young architect was David Ajaye. His design was an inverted ziggurat where sixty percent of the building… SIXTY… is underground. Being inside of this construction is a whole other experience.
I randomly ran into a friend from college in the food, fashion, and culture exhibit on the fourth floor. She noted she kind of got turned off by a photo of our very own Atlanta Housewife, Nene Leakes in the “Hand gestures” exhibit with a gesture of dismissal. She couldn’t believe they included her and felt they were noting her as a representation of our culture amongst other things she was entirely uncomfortable about. We talked about representation in front of the 100 year-old collard green pot. She finally arrived at this statement:
“Is this museum really for us? I feel like I know everything they are teaching me about already.”
I honestly understood where she was coming from. When I was younger I went to school in a predominately Black and Latino neighborhood so a lot of our curriculum was structured around exploring our own diverse histories. Instead of the National Anthem we sung Lift Every Voice. Instead of normal instruction on the prowess of the common White American notables, we learned about the Amistad, Mendez v. Westminster, and Nat Turner and other little-known minority historical figures. This I assure you is not a common education. Hell, when I tell people we celebrated Kwanzaa in school they look at me like I’m crazy and then ask me, “What’s that thing all about anyway?”
I say all this to say… I knew this stuff too. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a gift to see this history combined and commemorated in one grand building, on one meaningful patch of land in main view of the White House. I explained, though I’m sure she doesn’t know everything exhibited in this museum, I think a Native American who goes into the American Indian museum might feel the same way. This doesn’t negate the experience but imagine the millions of people who trek through the mall every year and will be able to learn about how beautiful our culture and how rich our history is. How many ugly preconceived notions can be dropped by taking a look at the accomplishments of Black people and how those accomplishments affect their lives. It is for us but it’s for everyone else too. Isn’t that awesome?
If you are looking to visit the NMAAHC, timed-entry tickets are sold out until the end of December but the January – March block will be open online soon.
Get your free tickets here –> https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes
Have you had this type of experience at a museum you’ve been to? Let me know about it!