Uncomfortable National Dialogue Is Healthy!

Uncomfortable national dialogue is so important. I think bringing up history that is hard to talk about is one of the most important jobs a historian can have. Our academic training puts us in a great position to be able to talk about issues that are swept under the rug or skirted around in general. Slavery is one of these hot button issues that in my opinion, shouldn’t be a hot button issue.

Through all of these essays in Slavery and Public History a general theme kept popping up in my head. This theme was that it is okay to critique America and admit that our country has committed atrocious acts of violence. By admitting this through public conversations, museums and exhibits, classroom settings in college and throughout k-12 education. As John Hope Franklin said, “we should never forget slavery. We should talk about it every morning and every day of the year to remind this country that there’s an enormous gap between its practices and its professions.” (pg. 37)

As long as public history displays and reenactments are done in a matter that is accepted and approved by the people it is about, I think painful reenactments can be useful. Public history efforts that are meant for audiences to be made uncomfortable can start conversations and affect people on a personal level. Exhibits, displays, and reenactments shouldn’t exist just for shock value exclusively. They should exist to change perceptions, popular belief, and deep-seeded personal prejudices. By displaying or teaching about the painful truth in historical homes and adding historical black figures to the history of places and objects like the Liberty Bell and the first White House, all spark important conversations about race relations in America and bring forth an inclusive historical narrative. This inclusive historical narrative is the most important factor lacking in American culture. Historians shouldn’t just focus on making sure that people know who owned slaves and where they slept at night, but we should also be educating people on black excellence and the ways that they shaped America in general. Black history shouldn’t be contained to a month, it should be deeply ingrained in every aspect of American history.

4 thoughts on “Uncomfortable National Dialogue Is Healthy!”

  1. I think out West, “we” have a problem facing the uncomfortable aspects of our past because there is so little time separating us from them. And possibly because “our” problems are so untwined with the physical world around us, like the environmental problems of mining, racial exclusion, Native extermination, or Minidoka. So I put to you the question, how do we as puplic historians change public culture enough that they do care about Black history for the other 11 months of the year?

  2. I pose to you Joe that ides that it is in many ways impossible. There have been/ are / will be those that will do so anyway. There will also always be those that choose not to see the elephant in the room. The masses in between ( that I’m assuming that you are referring to) often just need public historians to simply not be oblivious to the fact that it is there. The one person in all of it that caught my attention was Dwight Pitcaithey when the Nash essay talked about him ,”Pitcaithley was dismayed to find a chest-thumping, celebratory script, “an exhibit to make people feel good but not to think,” an exhibition that “would be an embarrassment if it went up,” and one that “works exactly against NPS’s new thinking.”(86) This is what we need to do in my opinion. Simply make sure that it isn’t forgotten about and give it the time and distance needed to “sink in”…

  3. I agree that these kinds of dialogues are very important. The whole point of a Black History Month was to raise national awareness that the histories of these people were not being told, and that this was a huge loss for our nation. I like that they are trying to incorporate more of these forgotten stories into these interpretive sites, I just wish that facts weren’t considered too controversial to tell the general public. If we took a little more time to consider the past we might have more empathy in the future.

  4. Just to add my 2-cents, I believe that as long as we tell our history through narratives that are hyphenated (i.e. Native-American, Afro-Americans, Anglo-Americans, etc) we will never get there. While interweaving the narratives is the solution, doing so will be a problem. Back in the 80s and early 90s I often had conversations with my kids about what they were being taught history, civics and social studies classes because I thought they were incomplete or even wrong. My response was to fill in some of the gaps where I could or ask my kids Socratic questions. Now days, with both parents working and many kids over-scheduled, I’m not sure either parents or schools have enough time to do it.

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