And so, pursuant to legislation passed this week by Congress that President Bush is expected to sign, we will begin erecting a National Museum of African American History and Culture, to be part of the Smithsonian. On the one hand, it cannot be denied that the African American experience in the United States has been unique and remarkable, and exhibits about it could easily fill at least one building. On the other hand, one fears that the new museum will be an exercise in victimology and separatism.
Worse, its presence will make it hard to resist the inevitable pressure that every group have its own museum. Indeed, we already have almost completed a National Museum of the American Indian (with another unique and remarkable experience), and now have congressional supporters pushing a National Latino Musuem (much less so). Can an Asian American and, in a few years, an Arab American museum be far behind?
Here is a good rule of thumb for those designing the new African American museum: If you end up with something that only African Americans will want to visit, you’ve done something wrong.