Knowing your history is important. Whether it’s your families medical history, your credit history, or the history of your ancestors–when you are in the “know” you’re allowing yourself the opportunity for growth. In addition to growth, you’re preparing yourself for any obstacles that may come your way in advance.
This is why I’m not quite sure why it is being asked that the black culture should forget about slavery and forget about the many roadblocks that black people have had to endure over time. I ranted about this a little on Facebook but figured this was the better platform to vocalize my opinion.
Let’s face it, we are ONLY 54 years out of segregation. Meaning, my living parents and grandparents have all lived through a divided world and are all here to share their stories and experiences whenever they feel the need to. The life of a black person isn’t a made up thriller story that people are fabricating just for the heck of it. It’s easy for people to say that we (black people) should forget about “color” whenever black people decide to talk about slavery, the past, or racial issues but do you see white people forgetting “color” when blacks are harassed for being in a store for too long? Or for being killed for having a toy gun? This all boils down to fairness. Equality. Checks and balances.
Just because a person may not experience racism/oppression/bondage (or whatever it is that you have endured) doesn’t mean it is not true. The fact that people are trying to say that slavery didn’t exist, that it was choice, and that we should forget about it, truly baffles me.
This brings me to the gist of this blog. While hanging out in Northern Virginia for a quick weekend trip my family and I made our way to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), located in Washington, DC on the National Mall.
I’ve been itching to make it to this museum since it opened in September of 2016. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to get tickets online to no avail. One year and 7 months later this museum is still one of the hardest museums to get into due to its popularity and the length of time attendees are spending inside.
Instead of attempting to get tickets online, we thought we would just try on a random Saturday since we were already in town. We arrived at the museum midday with no tickets. While the men searched for a place to park, the ladies approached the gentleman working and asked if there were any day passes left. He gave us what he had, which were only three passes but we needed seven! He advised us to try back in a few hours. Taking his advice, we took the three tickets that were available and decided to venture around to other museums. Before heading back to NMAAHC we enjoyed lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl and enjoyed the beautiful Spring day in the States Capital.
Once we returned, they had exactly four passes available. With those four passes plus the three we had from earlier, we were now ready to go inside! We took a chance and luckily, it worked in our favor.
So here I was.
Ready and anxious to explore. I had an idea of what to expect but at the same time I really wasn’t sure. The museum was ten years in the making. Not ten years to build but ten years to go from a thought, federal laws, funding, and to finally being able to build. Another few years would pass as they began construction and collecting over 35,000 artifacts.
We were advised to start from the bottom floor and to work our way up to the higher levels. I would also advise others to do the same if they are ever visiting the museum; I think that was a great idea looking back. We all (my family plus other attendees) gathered on a huge elevator and traveled downed to the bottom floor, which is actually underground. The elevator was glass with a black wall behind it. As we traveled down to the underground floor we began seeing the years printed on the walls. The years would scroll down in descending order as if we were going back into time. 1900s, 1800s, 1700s, 1600s, 1500s, 1400s! Then the elevator stopped.
We were dropped off in slavery. It was dark and gloomy. Dark in spirit and dark in light. The area was tight, which I believe was done on purpose. As you walked around you felt a sadness all around you. So many words to read, so many things to see, with a double dose of heartache. I’d stand there stunned trying to comprehend but really I couldn’t. I could barely fathom the pain and to think that for hundreds of years MY ancestors had to live through this.
Slaves were traded for goods. They were beaten and abused and owned by slave masters. Auctioned off like old cars. Slaves were not given the privilege to learn how to read or write because slave masters were afraid the slaves would figure out how to escape. Viewing the shackles and the mistreat that was bestowed upon our ancestors made me feel like I was living in that moment for just a second. Everything felt ten times more real just by walking through exhibits in a museum.
Imagine actually living during those times. Nothing about being a slave was a choice. When they came over on ships, tied together and malnourished, many didn’t even make it over. Some jumped off ships as dying was better than having to suffer. They didn’t know the language and had nothing. Slave masters left slaves in their wills as if they were pieces of property passed down through the family.
It was a lot to take in. So much so, that we chose not see the entire slavery portion of the museum. We wanted to have the chance to see the other floors within the museum and decided to move out of that era. We also decided to skip the next floor which was the Jim Crow segregation floor and the Civil Rights era.
We headed our way up to the 70s and 80s. The era of “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” We strolled as we “ahhed” in amazement. The progression that black people had made over the years was substantial. For once, it felt good to see positive images of the black culture.
We kept moving up into the 90s and the 2000s steadily progressing but at times feeling like our black culture had become stagnant, again.
We strolled around the sports section…..
and just black people at its greatness, in every genre and facet imaginable.
Indeed, the culture has come far. The museum also highlights President Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States.
There wasn’t enough time to really take in every aspect of the museum. We needed more than the 2.5 hours we allotted ourselves. I’ve read that many people have spent around 8 hours in the museum. With its own Café, plus a theater, I can see how easily this could happen.
I would advise anyone to visit this museum. I guarantee you will leave with a different perspective on things. I remember seeing some white people browsing the museum as I was. I thought to myself, “maybe they get it.” Maybe they understand the importance of knowing the real story. No matter your color you should visit this museum and allow it to be educational for you.
As a proud black woman I realize how far we have come but at the same time I realize the additional steps we must take in order to continue to move forward. The NMAAHC does a great job of chronologicalling the Aftrican American history. It is up to all of us to continue to strive for complete freedom.
My heart has been heavy since our museum visit because I just don’t understand why or how individuals could be so ignorant of the black struggle.
The term, “started from the bottom; now we’re here” fits the mold of most black people’s life as well as this museum. Which is why starting from the bottom underground floor and working your way up is key. And yes, there is a lot of pain associated with those dark days of slavery. Century after century we’ve taken two steps forward and then are somehow knocked back one. But one of the greatest assets of black people is that we never give up. Even when we have to start from the bottom, we make a way out of no way and we rise up!!
All opinions in this post are of my own!