Thursday, January 10, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a Whitewashed Museum

It has snowed without ceasing for the last 24 hours.  It makes for dangerous roads and lovely scenery and a slow day at work.  Not many people want to brave the winter wonderland to come to a museum.

Sometimes it seems not many people want to come to a museum regardless.

I wonder why people are so uninterested in their history.  Their past.  Their story.

I put up displays every month about different topics.  Comic books.  Where food comes from.  The history of toys.  Every time I wonder if I'll offend someone, especially with the one on toys.  I found a stripper pole you could buy for your little aspiring stripper, complete with a garter and fake dollar bills.  I put it in a panel about terrible toys, alongside a version of Monopoly called Blacks & Whites where you played as different races (the white players started with unlimited potential and a million dollars, the black ones with ownership bans on certain property blocks and a mere $10,000) and a road-kill stuffed animal.

A grandmother saw the picture of the stripper pole and got all up in arms.  A colleague had to talk her down and tell her to read the caption under the picture - which basically said, what a super offensive toy this is, what on earth were the developers thinking - before she calmed down.  Why didn't she read it on her own?  If I see an offensive picture with words directly underneath it, I'll read the words before I get bent out of shape.

(On a side note, not one person got offended about the Blacks & Whites game, which I thought was the worst thing on the display.)

I guess people would rather jump to conclusions first.  My family used to call it 'eating a hamster' because when I was a kid my hamster vanished.  Just disappeared.  No visible holes in the cage, and the other two hamsters were enormously fat.  Of course we decided (all of us, I'd like to note, not just us kids; Mom and Dad jumped on board with us) that these two plump matrons had eaten my lovely pet.  We directed a lot of hate at them for the next three days.  Then I found my hamster behind the stove, alive and thin and thirsty as all get out.  She'd squeezed out between a couple of loose bars and escaped.

Anyway.  Sometimes people get offended at the past too.  They get righteously indignant when we show them what life was like - people having large families, segregation and racism, prominent Christian-Judeo religion, an oil can for a company called Sambo with a super-racist picture of a black kid on it.

But that's how it was.  Making things "politically correct" and un-offensive won't help.  It isn't the truth, and it won't help us learn and grow and not repeat mistakes.  Whitewashing history is harmful.  It hides the horrific realities from us and refuses to make us accountable for our actions as a nation, as humans, as a people, both in the past and today.

Maybe that's why people would rather get offended than read and learn.  Because it's easier and it doesn't involve any introspection.  It's like watching the snow fall outside and then driving like it's July and you're immortal.

Stupid.  Dangerous.


At least until you crash.

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