In a response to the growth of ethnically-oriented museums on the National Mall, Rep. James Moran (D-VA) supports the creation of a museum dedicated to the American melting pot as an alternative. Entitled the National Museum of the American People, it would celebrate how Americans all came together as one great nation.
That might sound fine, but Moran is firing a shot at minority-dominated museums such as the Museum of the American Indian and the in progress National Museum of African American History and Culture. A melting pot museum would probably be more ideologically charged than any of the minority museums, as the impetus comes from the need conservative whites have to tell a positive story about American life. That the Daughters of the American Revolution supports such a museum tells us a great deal about who is behind this idea. I have no inherent problem with such a museum, but I highly question its ability or desire to tell the dark side of American history that complicates a narrative of national greatness which mars our society.
The public telling of history is fraught with divisiveness. That’s especially true about race, our unhealed national scab. Do we talk about slavery, forced deportations, and the genocide of Native Americans or do we want a story that reinforces our dominant national narrative that this is the greatest country in the history of the Earth? Can we tell the story from a middle ground? I would argue yes, but there’s plenty of people, particularly from the conservative side of the spectrum who are absolutely opposed to a multicultural American history, either in the classroom or the museums.
I think the American people are great too, but I have a heck of a lot of trouble seeing this museum as anything more than the creation of a narrative of racial and ethnic harmony that has no basis in our history.
A different topic, but here’s another take on the complexity of race and public history comes from a recent Kevin Levin post on potential problems with the National Park Service playing an active role outside in discussing this history outside park boundaries.