"Where would you like to go today?" He says, referring to our plan to do some sightseeing in downtown Detroit with some relatives, "the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), the Historical Museum, or the African-American museum?"
The choice is easy. At DIA, there is an exhibit of Richard Avedon's fashion photography. At the Historical museum, Soupy Sales; and at the African American museum, of course, African Americans. I choose the African American museum. Of course. I want the people I'm with to experience a fraction of what I feel all the time. (Perhaps this is how I teach empathy?) I really want to go to DIA, or to see crusty old cream pies at the Soupy Sales exhibit, but I think I want more to be black in downtown Detroit with my white family.
We go to the museum. We experience the museum. We discuss the museum’s more difficult sections, like the section of the museum which looks like a slaveship. It's dark, has a complex sound design (complete with moans and screams), and statues of slaves, packed in on shelves. “That was brutal,” one of my young companions says. I say, “Imagine how it must have been to actually be on the slaveship,” capitalizing on his white guilt, giving myself a spiritual pat on the back.
What I ignore until after walking through the obligatory Civil Rights section were my own negative feelings of blackness in a white world. And I admitted, as I exited through the lobby with my companions, that - holy shit! - I already knew most of the history I learned at the museum. I was certainly familiar with my feelings of guilt, shame, and anger, though I had somehow forgotten them when I chose to attend the museum.
And I missed seeing the Richard Avedon fashion photographs. I’ve got to do better if I think I’ll ever post on “Holy Shit! I’m gay.”