Bringing in 2016 with Reflections on “American” History

By Laura Carroll, MRN Leadership Team

In higher education, Winter Recess brings time for reflection, relaxation, and reconnection with family, friends, and self.  What I love about this time of year is ice skating, catching the latest movie release, family dinners, and trips to the museum.  As the nation commemorates the 75th anniversary of World War II, the local museum featured an exhibit that focused on the region’s role during the war.  As I walked through the exhibit, I remembered the stories that my late grandfather told me of his experience growing up during the war.  The photographs and models sparked a feeling of connection to him, like I finally had a physical representation of the images he so colorfully painted in his stories.  According to the exhibit, our region had a tremendous impact during the war, but we endured much pain and struggle.

Midway through, I noticed that my fiance was not experiencing the same feelings of connection to the exhibit.  They brought to my attention the minimal recognition given to the African Americans who contributed to the war efforts, and no recognition of African American women.  They shared feelings of sadness, anger, isolation, and rejection that their ancestors were not represented.  Not long after, I overheard a tour guide answer a visitor’s question with: “…we did have several artifacts, but they were very racist and we weren’t allowed to incorporate them into the exhibit.”

As a multiracial individual who identifies as BOTH Black (African American) and White (Scotch Irish), I had several reactions in that moment.  First, I felt concern for my fiance and the continuous impact of visiting museums that fail to acknowledge America’s oppressive past and present.  Second, like so many times in my life, I felt caught between the long-standing tension of my ancestors.  Consistently, “American” History Museums are very White and we must go to the African American History Museums to see our culture represented and celebrated.  Very rarely will multiracial individuals be identified in any history museums, at least none that I have visited throughout the east coast.

Two weeks later, I’ve had some time to process this experience.  It saddens me that people of color are rarely included when we commemorate “American” history.  The three brief references in the 10,000 square foot exhibition, included one wax figure of a Tuskegee Airman, a diagram of the estimated racial demographics of soldiers (5% African American and 1% other), and one small square case with a pin from the “Double V Campaign”. After further research at home, I learned that the Double V Campaign was a motivational symbol created by African Americans to start a movement for victory abroad at war and equal rights in the United States.  At present, the fight for equal rights and respect, remains.

In an effort to find a sense of community in this city, I searched an electronic database of over 700 local affinity groups. I was glad to find a handful of groups and organizations that support and celebrate African Americans. However, not surprisingly, my search for biracial/multiracial resulted in zero results (not even at the universities).  Despite the lack of inclusion within society at large, I’m thankful to be a part of MRN.  This truly is a community of thoughtful individuals who engage in dialogue, readings, research, and events to raise awareness, educate, and provide support…creating a sense of belonging.

I find that writing this blog was very therapeutic and it became more exciting as I continued to express my/our experience through text.  I would love to hear some of your experiences and feedback. Has a visit to a history museum sparked reflections of your heritage? Is there an organization in your local area (or at your institution) that does great work for the multiracial community? Have you and your partner or relative had a conversation about your racial identities and representation (or lack of, or misrepresentation) within society?

About the Author:
Laura is an Academic Advisor in the College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh.  She has been involved with MRN since her first ACPA Convention in 2011.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her fiance, their cat, and fish; hanging out with family and friends, attending cultural events, and dancing.

Advertisements