Reflections on the opening of
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Whenever I turn away from a feeling, an interpersonal challenge, a piece of bad news, I throw away a teachable moment. Fear, anxiety, or even strong physical sensations can overcome my curiosity, warn me against crossing some threshold, and keep me from learning something that could change my life.
The first time I landed in a therapist’s office, I was in my early twenties and alarmed. I was alarmed by an unfamiliar pattern – yelling at my young children from morning until night, and at the explosive anger that fueled my outbursts yet never diminished. I was enormously relieved to hear this was “a situational depression.” A response to months of supporting my husband through one more exacerbation of a chronic illness. Trying to keep the kids quiet so he could rest. Relieved I was not pushed to explore my early childhood, which I was sure was full of demons. Relieved I need not yet face my sequestered terror of extinction, of being blown out like a candle in a breeze. I got out of that therapist’s office within six months, my view of myself and life intact. Relieved and none the wiser.
I had thrown away a teachable moment. Several decades passed until the effects of an accumulation of unexamined, misperceived, and misunderstood choices physically and emotionally felled me. I was exhausted.
All I really had left was the moment. And the moment. And the moment. One teachable moment after another. Moments that changed – and continue to change my life by showing me in great detail the gaps between my idealized view of myself, humanity, God/Reality, and how things are.
This means I am more awake to, more able to stop myself from demanding that you see, think, feel, behave like me, so I can be comfortable and safe. I am not immune to the impulse, and I don’t succeed every single time.
And each time I do wake up, someone else gets closer to being who they are and realizing what they came into this world to do.
So it is with both trepidation and excitement that I hold this time as a teachable moment for me, for my people, for my kin, for the American people.
In three days, President Barak Obama will dedicate The National Museum of African American History and Culture in the heart of America’s political and cultural capital. This Museum presences and invites each one of us into the stories of the people whose enslavement and back-breaking labor lies unacknowledged yet unextinguished at the center of our national story, and whose music inspires us even as we fail to acknowledge the human spirit and suffering that gave voice to it.
Cracks are showing in the American body politic and psyche, showing up the gaps between our idealized view of ourselves and how things are. It is time to give up our false relief and any illusions that we are – or should be – “post-racial.”
It is time to examine, to perceive, to understand. It is time to study, reflect on, and engage with our full family history. Until we do, each one of us is shackled, and we continue to apply the whip to one another in ever more creative, merciless, and unnecessary ways.
The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers us a teachable moment like no other. Please join me in offering prayers that we will collectively seize this moment to reckon with our full history and reconcile with our kin.
The Museum has invited organizations around the nation to link local events to the opening. You can search the Lift Your Voice a directory to find local events celebrating African American History and Culture in your hometown: https://nmaahc.si.edu/lift-every-voice