The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the Smithsonian is “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture”, I consider that statement their mission statement. The museum also states that “this Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture.”
In mid July 2020, in the midst of nation-wide social and racial unrest, the NMAAHC curators published the following chart on their website in what appears to be some kind of an attempt to inform/educate the population about “white culture”:
After NMAAHC received public backlash regarding the content of the chart NMAAHC subsequently removed the chart from their website and replaced it with a statement that said in-part, “Since yesterday, certain content in the ‘Talking About Race’ portal has been the subject of questions that we have taken seriously. We have listened to public sentiment and have removed a chart that does not contribute to the productive discussion we had intended.”
Up front we all must remember that NMAAHC states quite specifically that it’s “devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture” and here the NMAAHC is presenting a informational/educational chart approved by NMAAHC curators that, on the surface, is devoted exclusively to what they are calling “white culture”; other than their token usage of the phrase “including people of color” there is absolutely nothing in the chart that documents African American life, history or culture. This entire chart from top to bottom is either violating the stated mission and goals of the NMAAHC and they’re hiding behind the ruse of “talking about race” which also violates their mission or there is something else afoot here. On NMAAHC’s Talking About Race page they state “At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we believe that any productive conversation on race must start with honesty, respect for others, and an openness to ideas and information that provide new perspectives” then they proceed to present a chart labeled “white culture” and fill it with what they are directly implying as race based stereotypes. For racists, everything is about race; this chart is labeling something as “white culture” which is a misrepresentation of the truth.
Since this chart doesn’t appear on the surface to be inline with NMAAHC’s stated mission we must attempt to understand why they published it. Let’s start by looking at the NMAAHC’s bold proclation at the beginning at the top of the chart…
“White dominate culture, or whiteness, which refers to the ways white people and their traditions, attitudes and ways of life have been normalized over time and are now considered standard practices in the United States. And since white people still hold most of the institutional power in America, we have all internalized some aspects of white culture – including people of color.”
The United States of America (USA) is literally a melting pot of cultures that have been blended into one nation/culture/society. Individuals from separate cultures freely share characteristics of their culture with the whole of our nation and over time assimilate aspects of their culture into the whole of the USA’s culture and assimilate aspects of the USA’s culture into themselves. Since culture is continuously evolving by means of cultural evolution* and our culture is united as one, there’s no such thing as a “white dominate culture” in the USA; in fact the phrase “white dominate culture” is a figment of someone’s imagination and appears to be motivated solely by race. We have a constantly changing blended culture that has some core values that are stipulated in our Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution, Constitutional Amendments, and then there is the dominate and coveted American dream. People have flocked to the USA for hundreds of years specifically because of the freedoms we share, how our culture works and searched for their piece of the coveted American dream.
If a sub culture within the USA chooses to go off on a tangent and reject the core foundations of the culture they are part of, reject the cultural “norms” that surround them and essentially isolate itself from the dominate culture by fabricating their own unique cultural niche, kind of like cults do, that is their choice. Trying to intentionally divide a culture like ours into a “white” and African American/people of color/black cultures, as this NMAAHC chart appears to be doing, is racist at its core. Groups or individuals choosing to be antisocial** is one thing but trying to intentionally divide a nation along racial lines is racist, anti-American and immoral. Again; for racists, everything is about race. The NMAAHC chart is racist and promotes racial division.
Since this chart doesn’t appear on the surface to be inline with NMAAHC’s stated mission we must try to understand why NMAAHC created the chart and then they thought it was a good idea to published it. All we have to evaluate intent is the chart itself and NMAAHC’s Whiteness web page.
Let’s break this down this way.
1. NMAAHC is “devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture”; therefore, this chart must somehow represent “African American life, history, and culture” or it’s in direct violation of their own mission statement.
2. Let’s first assume that the NMAAHC has not violated their mission statement and the chart is also representing the traits black culture even though it specifically states that it’s about “white culture”.
- If the chart is accurately portraying only the specific traits of “white culture” and the chart hasn’t violated the mission of the NMAAHC then we must assume that the specific traits of black culture are different than the ones listed for white culture.
1. What are the cultural relationships to the traits listed in the chart?
2. What are the specific traits of black culture?
3. Why aren’t they telling us specific traits of black culture?
- If this chart is also representing black culture and black culture is different than white culture then black culture must be the antithesis of white culture or is it something else altogether that’s unstated?
3. Second lets assume that the NMAAHC has violated their mission statement and the chart is all about “white culture” and has nothing to do with black culture.
- If the chart is accurately portraying only the specific traits of “white culture” and has nothing to do with traits of black culture then what purpose did the NMAAHC have to create the chart?
1. Was the purpose to imply that all or specific traits of white culture shouldn’t be expected to be traits of black culture even though we are all part of the same USA culture?
2. Was the purpose to promote the divisional aspects of culture that are somehow specifically based on race?
3. Was it to imply that some or all of the white culture traits listed are not acceptable to black culture?
4. Third, let’s evaluate the purpose of the chart based on the timing with the massive protests proclaiming anti-black systemic racism, violent criminal rioting and cancel culture that’s happening right now in the USA. The USA is currently being accused of anti-black systemic racism, not just the police but across the board, right now if you are a white person then you are considered racist by virtue of the color of your skin – which is how a racist thinks. Is this whiteness culture rhetoric simply another piece of the bigotry and racism launched at white people, it’s NMAAHC’s way of telling white people that their culture is no longer acceptable and projecting that all aspects of it must be canceled?
After wading through my questions, see if you can come up with any other possible reasons for the NMAAHC to have created and posted the chart. Share your opinion in the comments section.
* Cultural evolution: is an evolutionary theory of social change. It follows from the definition of culture as “information capable of affecting individuals’ behavior that they acquire from other members of their species through teaching, imitation and other forms of social transmission”. Cultural evolution is the change of this information over time.
**Antisocial: contrary to the laws and customs of society; devoid of or antagonistic to sociable instincts or practices.