THE SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY
A TALE OF ANACHRONISM
THE UNFINISHED LEGACY OF AMERICA’S SLAVERY
Dr. Joyce Watford, an Educator and a Descendant of American Slaves
September 12, 2016
On September 12, 2016, I watched the pre-opening tour of The National Museum of African American Culture and History on CBS “This Morning News,” with Charlie Rose, Nora O’Donnell, and Gayle King. I could not help but cringe with incredulity as I listened to the speakers in the episode, spouting heart-felt accolades and expressing genuine awe at a people and a history, as unique and as inspiring, as the historic museum itself, but ironically whose true name and identity were never emphatically and directly accentuated in the narratives, but instead were glossed over and/or enshrouded, covered up in something that still felt like anachronism, secrecy, and a terrible, horrific lie that continue to surround the very unique race of people the museum is supposed to be memorializing. And what, at the same time, was both amazing and befuddling, was that most of the people in the episode were themselves members of this unique race of people who could not/would not verbally acknowledge their link to the unique race of people being memorialized in the museum! They appeared frozen in reluctance to reveal their Slave connections! I thought that was most ironic, given the rare event—the nature of the opportune occasion.
All the American Slave artifacts, donated by Descendants of American Slaves and Descendants of American Slave Owners, were unable to speak the truth, loudly and clearly, into history and peel back the fraud, once and for all, simply, because their true names—American/America’s Slaves and Descendants of American/America’s Slaves—were never emphatically and specifically called out.
Instead, those celebrating and officiating at this auspicious event shrunk behind a false and anachronistic name (African Americans) to tell about the despair and triumphs of a unique race of people in American history, whose real names were never “African American”—a racially fraudulent name that came into vogue for this said “unique race of people” only during the 1970s. “African American” is a misnomer for American/America’s Slaves and Descendants of American/America’s Slaves. There is, at this time in history, no other name that can adequately/accurately substitute for their real, true name (except, of course, just plain, simple “American,” which will be claimed after our original, historic name has been properly given acknowledgment and atonement! Our original name is what it is!
As a result, there can be no respect or pride given to ourselves as a unique race of people when we slink away from and/or compromise our true selves—our true racial and cultural identity—by accepting some other name that hides so much about ourselves that we really do want to embrace and celebrate with exuberance and pride but seemingly are forbidden to do so. However, to claim our true name and set ourselves free, starts with us—by taking, with no shame or fear, our real, true name—America’s/American Slaves and Descendants of America’s/American Slaves! This is where our unique place in American history—in the American story—begins, long before the 1970s when some Descendants of American Slaves, in their quest for a name that included two continents, similar to other Americans whose ancestors immigrated to America. But our ancestors were not immigrants—they were America’s chattel slaves. Their original and true name was/is American/America’s Slaves and the name of their offspring was/isDescendants of American Slaves, of whom I am one.
Anachronism is a person or thing that is chronologically out of place. That is what the name “African American” is, in regard to America’s Slaves and their descendants. The planners and overseers of the museum say the museum is not a museum about slavery. They say the museum is an American story of tragedy and triumph. The question then is, Whose tragedy and triumph? And how does one tell a story of tragedy (or any kind of story) by leaving out the main characters in the tragedy? The story told could have been so much more powerful by putting the players in it—America’s Slaves and the Descendants of America’s Slaves. The museum exudes the story of tragedy and triumph of this unique race of people in American history. One cannot tell a story about a people, by dancing around the very people as if they are some great secret whose truth can never ever be told while, at the same time, pretending to reveal them by giving them a false name in the story. The incongruence in the story equals a lie and exposes intent to deceive and/or hide the truth. Therefore, the presentation of the museum presently appears to be at odds with history and truth. History cannot, must not, tiptoe around reality, unless, that is, it is revisionist history. Is that what the museum is about—revising a terrible, horrific truth about a past that we are still too fragile to confront? So, rather than confront it, we whitewash it and lay it to rest in acts of avoidance and feigned ignorance! It would be both a travesty and tragedy, worse than the first, if that were to happen with the complicity of the Descendants of America’s Slaves in the ongoing schemes to abnegate historic, systemic accountability and responsibility in deference to perpetual oppression against a people whose very descendants (who they are!) have not yet outlived the same oppressive travesty/tragedy of racial bigotry and white supremacy that consumed the lives of their Slave ancestors.
As I watched the episode of the televised pre-opening tour, I kept thinking and feeling, “How can one glorify and rejoice in an event so awesome and magnificent, when he/she is too ashamed or afraid, or uninformed to embrace, claim, and internalize the total significance of that event?” It was so apparent that America’s Slaves and Descendants of America’s Slaves entombed everything about what the museum is, yet their names were never called out in the many testaments to them and their real-life existence. How twisted and historically incongruent the testifying and memorializing were! The people participating in the episode kept saying that this is an American story. Yes, this is an American history story, but for whom and, specifically, who are the players? …History is never devoid of protagonists and antagonists. Therefore, the pre-opening episode missed telling and demonstrating the triumphant miracles of the human spirit when they are/were right there, brightly shining all around the artifacts everywhere in the museum! The obvious truth hung heavily in the air, as it screamed back at everyone watching… ”And there would have been nothing—no stories, no history, no museum—had there been no American Slaves and their descendants, of whom I am proud to be one!” But it offends me to no end to hear others claiming self-serving kinship from a distance while keeping the actual kin a secret, hidden, and unnamed!
LOOK… JUST BEGIN TO SAY OUR ANCESTORS’ NAME! … SAY OUR ANCESTORS’ NAME, FOR GOD’S SAKES!
… AND IT IS NOT “AFRICAN AMERICAN” BECAUSE OUR “AMERICAN” SLAVE ANCESTORS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS WERE NEVER IMMIGRANTS FROM AFRICA! THEIR CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL NAMES ARE AMERICAN/AMERICA’S SLAVES AND DESCENDANTS OF AMERICAN/AMERICA’S SLAVES!