Hello from Washington D.C.!
It’s my first time to the United States Capital. Since I grew up in Hong Kong and Taiwan I’ve seen plenty of capital cities in Asia and several on my Europe Voyage, and now I’m finally making it to my own nation’s capital. I am interested the way these power centers represent the nations they govern. It’s just hard choosing what to see in a brief 2-day visit!
Since I landed again on US soil in Boston 3 days ago, I’ve heard quite a few people mention the new National Museum of African American History and Culture which opened in fall 2016 in DC and knew I needed to make it a priority. So as my friend and I drove into the city today, we bypassed all the national monuments and headed straight for the African American Museum. It’s hard to get in since there’s such a high demand and limited tickets, but since my friend is a military spouse, we were given first priority—I’ll take that!
The museum was beautifully and thoughtfully done. Starting in the 3rd level basement in 1400AD, we worked our way up to the present day on the ground level. The exhibit started by describing the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade by the leading colonial powers: Portugal, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands. (Denmark also played a role and certainly many other European peoples benefitted economically from the corrupt trading of human persons.) What is so hard to conceive is that these modern-day nation states were built on the wealth acquired from the slave trade. So essentially, the reason the west continues to prosper today is because we stripped power from those we dehumanized.
The museum’s stated goal was to continue healing from past pain but not sit in anger and accusation. By telling true stories, they acknowledged our broken past and also empowered us to a better future. The contradiction of our nation’s claim to “freedom and justice for all” because “all men are created equal” when at least one third of our nation was not considered a person (or only 3/5 a person) was juxtaposed with those who bravely fought for emancipation.
For me this was the epiphany: Though our nation was birthed in racial injustice while we proclaimed human freedom, those who were once hard pressed have pushed the burden of injustice off of their backs, raising themselves and the rest of us to a true human freedom and equality.
What we white folks defined as freedom meant our privilege at the expense of other’s suffering. But this freedom was a lie. True freedom, both for them (black folks) and for us (white folks) meant equal access to human rights for every living, breathing person—male and female, black and white, and every other color and human identifier we could mention. We’re a nation that has stated that we are all created equal but has never actually achieved such an equality. Thanks to the African American community, among others, we are gradually moving closer to that ideal.
I left the museum grateful. I’m grateful that in spite of the sins of my people and the high cost of our greed and prosperity, those we have oppressed have risen up to make us all more human. As they grasp for the human dignity inherent in their creation, they also show us (the oppressors) that our dignity comes not from oppressing by coercive power but from sharing power so that all are free to prosper.
And the story continues. We’ve gone from slavery to emancipation to civil rights and now to Black Lives Matter. We’ve moved far, but we’re not there yet… we still live in a society of systemic inequality and we’re still pushing together for the nation we are meant to be under God.
Thank you, African American brothers and sisters, for what you’ve taught me about freedom and dignity. I want to continue to work with you to build a nation where we truly have “liberty and justice for all.”