From Objects to Participants
From Objects to Participants
Isaiah Tulanda’s observations and reflections on his visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
This past October I went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. through the Diversity and Inclusion program at my college, Claremont McKenna.
Over the course of four days I was able to visit the museum three times, each time having a different experience. Understanding the museum starts with its structure, there are four floors (including the concourse, lobby level) above ground dedicated to culture, and three floors below ground dedicated to history. This museum is humongous. The first time I went I dedicated all of my time to the culture floors. There were so many exhibits celebrating Black excellence in various fields, from music to athletics to literature and more. It was overwhelming to take in all at once, especially considering how much of this history is not acknowledged in the usual canon of historical studies of this country.
This first day was also when I started to view observe the actions of the people around me in the museum. Several times I (admittedly) eavesdropped on three generations of a family visiting the museum together. It was easy to tell that the eldest generation of the family was reliving an earlier portion of their life when they stumbled upon a certain exhibit. Same with the middle generation with some of the more recent events. But the youngest generation, probably not older than eight, was in an entirely new world, and the elders were eager to share pieces of their youth with their progeny. This was beautiful. This was also the first time I heard outbursts of “Oh, do you remember when this happened!” at a museum. This is a living museum, with artifacts as recent as 2016. There were also some interactive exhibits that allowed visitors to participate in activities from step dance to the Jim Crow era.
The following days I went to the history levels. I was not expecting them to gloss over the numerous injuries suffered by Black people in America over time, but I was not ready for what lay ahead. It was amazing how much that is never mentioned unless one goes seeking for it. It was tough to get through, from the Middle Passage, to Emmett Till and Mass Incarceration, but there was a sense of pride that permeated throughout these floors. Sure there was a KKK mask on one floor, but not too far away there was also an exhibit for the first Black president.
This museum made me proud. Even though I am the child of African immigrants, I do consider this culture a part of my own. I am as proud to be a Black American as I am to be an African American. Everyone needs to see this museum. Far too often Black people are seen as objects of history and not active participants. This flips that narrative upon its head.
Isaiah Tulanda, a member of DTS’s College 2020 cohort, is a freshman at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. He is passionate about social justice and creating impactful change.
Want to know more about Claremont McKenna College? Find out more here!
Learn more about the National Museum of African American History and Culture here!