As more and more of us get #vaxxed, Covid restrictions around the country are starting to ease up.
From indoor dining at restaurants to watching movies in theaters and maybe even going out to bars and clubs, there's a lot on our list, and this summer promises to keep us booked and busy with back to back plans.
no sleep 👏 bus 👏 club 👏 nother club 👏nother club 👏 nother club 👏 plane 👏 next place 👏 no sleep 👏 nother club 👏 not… https://t.co/AxAn4LshIP— Gaga Daily (@Gaga Daily) 1584035016.0
But after the past year, this summer won't just be about hedonism — it will also be a time for reflection and acknowledging all the growth we had in 2020 as people and as a culture.
A big shift in 2020 happened in response to the murder of George Floyd, when escalating protests about police brutality finally forced a lot of the US to reckon with their complicity in the systemic oppression that has gone so long ignored by those who stand to benefit.
And while the black squares on Instagram still cause a shudder, and Nancy Pelosi's monte cloths can only be rivaled by her Juneteenth 2021 spectacle — leading a choir in the singing of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" AKA the Black national anthem — there was some fruitful conversation which brought abolitionist ideas such as defunding the police and finding alternatives to prisons and the carceral system into the mainstream.
However, with recent bans on teaching critical race theory and persistent violence against marginalized communities, it's obvious that racism isn't over and that some people did not read those copies of White Fragility they ordered from Black bookstores.
As in-person activity resumes, visiting museums focusing on Black history and culture should be on everyone's to-do list. From civil rights to modern art, there's a wide range of Black museums to support as we integrate active anti-racism into all aspects of our lives.
National Museum of African American History and Culture — Washington DC
The most comprehensive museum of Black American history is undoubtedly the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC. Unveiled in 2016, the museum took 13 years to be realized and is worth the wait.
The NMAAHC believes that "there are few things as powerful and as important as a people, as a nation that is steeped in its history." The giant museum chronicles the history of African Americans in the context of broader American history, explicitly wrestling with questions of liberty, justice, and freedom in the wake of continued oppression.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture — Harlem, NY
The crown jewel of the New York Public Library system is also one of its most underrated landmarks: the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The Schomberg is one of the premier resources for Black literature, scholarship, and theory. It facilitates research and houses exhibitions about the history of Blackness in America with its deep archives and immersive displays.
Studio Museum — Harlem, NY
Since 1968, the Studio Museum has been championing Black art from its home in Harlem. The Studio Museum houses a collection of Black contemporary art, as well as a rich archive of Black art spanning many decades and eras. The Studio Museum is also responsible for launching the careers of many contemporary Black artists with its Artist in Residence program.
As a reflection of contemporary Black culture, the Studio Museum is a must see for art lovers and museum lovers in New York City. So yes, go to the Met and the Guggenheim, but go further uptown into the site of the Harlem Renaissance and experience the past and present of Black art.
Motown Museum — Detroit, Michigan
You know the sound, you know the names — Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and even more — but do you know their stories? The Motown Museum is a global destination which chronicles the birth of the sound that changed music as we know it. The preservation of the Motown Museum is a celebration of one of the most influential parts of global Black culture and a testament to the people who made the music that is so embedded in our lives.
California African American Museum — Los Angeles
The California African American Museum chronicles Black American culture with archives which go as deep as the 1800s. Its permanent collection and rotating exhibits come together to make it one of the most comprehensive and dynamic museums in the country.
CAAM emphatically has a focus on representation of women and has a yearly social media initiative called #5WomenArtists. This focus on intersectionality is at the core of the museum's mission and is reflected in its curation, which is designed to remind us about the importance of representation in all areas.
National Civil Rights Museum — Memphis, Tennessee
Located steps away from the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in 1986, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is a testament to the Civil Rights Era. Telling the story of the Black American journey to liberation, the museum traces the history from the slavery era through to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement.
In the US, these periods have been packaged into a sterilized narrative which does not do justice to the lived experiences of Black people nor the formations of the structures which still implicate so much of our lives today. The National Civil Right Museum aims to make those realities feel more immediate through its dynamic mix of artifacts and exhibits juxtaposed against more active experiences like oral histories, videos, and immersive activities like reenactments of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, and there's even an opportunity to sit at the original lunch counter from the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins.
The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute — Selma, Alabama
When the 2020 election focused heavily on voters' rights, mobility, and registration, it emphasized the history of voting inequality in America. Contemporary activists like Stacey Abrams are vocal about the systematic roots of voting disenfranchisement and take cues from activists of yore, but most people aren't taught the nuances of the Voting Rights Movement and its effects today.
Selma, famous for the 1965 MLK march to Montgomery, is home of The National Voting Rights Museum, which aims to keep this history alive and urge us to keep doing the work. The site is right on the bridge and houses artifacts from the march itself, including not just photos, but torn clothing and footprints from where the state troopers incited violence at the 1965 march.
Whitney Plantation — Wallace, Louisiana
The Whitney Plantation is a one-of-a-kind tribute to enslaved people. While many plantations are still standing — and often they are sites for parties, weddings, debutante balls and more in the South — none have been converted with the care and purpose of the Whitney Plantation. The 2000-acre property sits near the Mississippi river and was owned by enslavers until 1867.
The property was the first official slavery museum in America to be housed in a plantation, a joint project of the property owner John Cummings, a retired white lawyer who was startled by his own ignorance to the history of slavery, and Ibrahima Seck, the museum's director of research. The immersive experience focuses on honoring the lives on enslaved people by directly confronting the reality of the institution of slavery. Visitors are each greeted with a card which says the name of an enslaved person, and are encouraged at all steps to remind themselves of the humanity of the person behind the name, while confronting the horror they experienced.
The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration / The National Memorial for Peace and Justice — Montgomery, Alabama
New to mainstream conversation is the movement around defunding the police and abolishing prisons. However, abolitionists and activists have been fighting for those steps for decades. Statistics and research proves that Black Americans are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated. The Legacy Museum explains this phenomenon through the legacy of slavery.
Opened by the Equal Justice Initiative, the museum shines a light on the horrors of slavery and is as equally unflinching about the present injustices of the prison system. After films like 13th and books like The New Jim Crow, a visit to the Legacy Museum is a visceral reminder of the realities of contemporary oppression.
Museum Of The African Diaspora — San Francisco, CA
The landscape of Black Americans is diverse and varied and the MOAD, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, finds its focus in the global lens of the African Diaspora. The museum explores the nuances of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as well as the contemporary African diaspora. It also sheds light on different eras and diverse movement patterns to emphasize that Blackness is not a monolith and to promote a more global way of looking at activism.
Honoring Black history and culture beyond federal holidays, which are often devoid of context, is a good way to immerse ourselves in anti-racism. Black culture museums are constant reminders for us to think deeper about intersectionality, history, and systemic oppression in our everyday lives.