The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) recently removed an infographic about ‘Whiteness’ from their online portal “Talking About Race” after they received criticism from Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.
In response to Hawley’s initial July 20 letter inquiring for more information about the online race-based curriculum, Lonnie Bunch, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, responded with her own letter on Monday, obtained by The Federalist. She explained that the infographic, which was approved across various museum departments, was intended to start conversations, and also explained why, following the resultant backlash, it was removed from their online website.
“…the intent of the portal is to provide resources to assist the public in engaging in conversations about race. We recognize that a specific chart presented de-contextualized information that did not contribute to productive, informed conversations. We erred in including the chart, and therefore we eliminated it from our portal,” the letter read.
Bunch’s letter additionally provided answers to a series of questions that Hawley posed in his initial inquiry letter, such as why these positive attributes are considered exclusively “White,” why the “nuclear family” is a construct of “white dominant culture”, and whether the museum, as the chart might be interpreted to suggest, believes people of color to be deficient in the listed qualities.
Bunch’s response was that the infographic didn’t intend to do any of these things — it was meant to start conversations about race, rather than attribute certain qualities and characteristics to a single race.
Hawley’s initial letter suggested that the infographic about ‘Whiteness’ might cause “racial division” rather than foster “mutual respect” between individuals of different races. He additionally posited that the various qualities the infographic attributes to white individuals, such as “self-reliance” and “objective, rational linear thinking,” are qualities that other Americans possess, too.
“The claim that these qualities and commitments — ideas Americans of all races have traditionally celebrated and strived to teach their children — are distinctive to white Americans would be troubling enough given its implication that they are foreign to Americans of color,” the letter stated.
The infographic which incited this controversy was titled “Aspects & Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the United States.” It contained a definition of “white dominant culture” and listed key attributes and qualities associated with “whiteness,” such as “rugged individualism,” “hard work is the key to success,” “respect authority,” and even, “be polite.”
The National Museum of African American History & Culture wants to make you aware of certain signs of whiteness: Individualism, hard work, objectivity, the nuclear family, progress, respect for authority, delayed gratification, more. (via @RpwWilliams)https://t.co/k9X3u4Suas pic.twitter.com/gWYOeEh4vu
— Byron York (@ByronYork) July 15, 2020
On the “Talking About Race” website, the NMAAHC posted an additional message regarding the controversial infographic they removed after the backlash they received. “Since yesterday, certain content in the ‘Talking About Race’ portal has been the subject of questions that we have taken seriously. We have listened to public sentiment and have removed a chart that does not contribute to the productive discussion we had intended.”
In Bunch’s letter, she additionally notes that the Smithsonian is conducting a “comprehensive review” of the online website to ensure that the resources provided are helpful in advancing conversations between individuals who attend the museum rather than fomenting further controversy.
The NMAAHC is public, taxpayer-funded institution established by Congress in 2003 for the purpose of documenting “African American life, history, and culture.”
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