The Smithsonian Institution announced The National Museum of African American History and Culture would open its doors in September. Four years since President Obama presided over the groundbreaking ceremony, it's only fitting POTUS will direct the ribbon ceremony in the fall. Until then, here are several other options to explore American life from the African American perspective.
1. August Wilson Center/African American Culture
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
The August Wilson Center for African American Culture is a multi-purpose facility hosting art exhibits, stage and musical performances, classes and lectures. Named after the famed playwright and Pittsburgh native, the center which houses a 500-seat theater is a main attraction of the city's Liberty Ave Cultural District.
2. The Studio Museum in Harlem
Location: Harlem, NY
The Studio Museum is unique in its efforts to support and foster the growth of artists. The first black or Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (1985), the institution focuses on art distinctively influenced by global African and black culture. It's currently housing several exhibits including Danielle Dean's video still True Red.
3. California African American Museum
Location: Los Angeles
The LA-based institution prides itself on curating for the public work inspired by the African American, with an emphasis on black history of the West. The Museum occupies 44,000 square feet which includes three exhibit galleries, a theater gallery, a multi-purpose facility and a research facility.
4. Stax Museum of American Soul
Location: Memphis, TN
Named after the storied record company, Stax totes itself as "the world's only museum dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of American soul music." The facility is an exquisite record of soul music's colorful journey, from it's deep Southern Baptist roots to the superfly styling of Issac Hayes. The museum houses the Stax Academy which educated middle and high school students through intense musical study.
5. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Location: Kansas, MO
The privately funded facility was founded to preserve the history of the Negro Leagues. Despite African Americans playing baseball since the early 1800's, Jim Crow laws forced them out of major league teams. With the Brooklyn Dodger's acquisition of Jackie Robinson, the Negroes League declined and folded during the 1960's. The museum is a time capsule of amazing athletes and men.
6. Schomburg Center of Black Culture
Location: New York City, NY
The research center is a part of the New York Public Library and specializes in studies of and about the African diaspora. It's a leading entity in research and preservation of African artifacts, recordings, literature and more. A current exhibit examines 300 years of female print makers and their unappreciated contributions.
7. Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum
Location: St. Petersburg, FL
Named after the father of Black History Month, the museum is an intricate part of the African American community in St. Petersburg. It was in Florida that many blacks established their own successful cities, institutions and livelihoods. Despite segregation and racism, the communities survived and display its rich history at this facility.
8. The African American Firefighter Museum
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Celebrating more than 100 years of black men serving when it was founded, the AAFM remains the nation's only free standing institution representing black firefighters. The museum is open to the public three days a week and is completely funded by donations.
9. The Harrison Museum of African American Culture
Location: Roanoke, VA
The Harrison Museum's mission is to cultivate education and awareness of African and African American culture for the Roanoke Valley area. Exhibits include IndiVisble - an expose on the lives of indigenous people; and, Tobacco People: Africa and the Americas, which details the integral part people of African descent play in the global tobacco market.
10. Muhammad Ali Center
Location: Louisville, KY
The multicultural center serves the Louisville community in honor of the sports great, Muhammad Ali. The center is guided by six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality. Individuals of all ages are welcomed to participate in the enriching programs, which focus on gender equity and global citizenship.
11. LATIBAH Collard Green Museum
Location: Charlotte, NC
Regardless of it's namesake, the LATIBAH Museum is more than just about a soul food delicacy. But its choice of the collard green as a symbol represents African American's varied history from slavery, to reconstruction, Jim Crow and current day.
12. The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Philadelphia was the first major city to build an institution dedicated to the rich heritage of African Americans. Built in celebration of the nation's bicentennial, the AAMP strives to educate on the African American experience from pre-colonial times to present day.
13. IPS Crispus Attucks Museum
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Located inside Indianapolis' first segregated high school, the IPS Crispus Attucks Museum is named after the famed abolitionist. The museum recently documented the school's lengthy history with a digital yearbook spanning from 1928-1986.
14. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Popularly known as the Freedom Center, it specializes in exhibits highlighting heroes of both the African American struggle and human rights as a whole. In addition to history of the American slave trade, it aides in bringing awareness on modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
15. African American Civil War Memorial & Museum
Location: Washington, DC
While the monument was built in 1998, both it and the museum serve as a tool to honor the untold stories of the United States Colored Troops who served in the American Civil War. In 2011, the facility relocated within D.C.'s "U" District as part of the Grimke building.
16. Tubman Museum
Location: Macon, GA
The largest museum of its kind in the Southeast, the Tubman Museum educates through various art exhibits, programs and initiatives. Its currently hosting famed documentary photographer Jim Alexander, showcasing over 40 years of life captured on film.
17. The Apex Museum
Location: Atlanta, GA
The Apex Museum, "Where every day is Black History Month," is the brainchild of famed Philly filmmaker Dan Moore Sr. and former Morehouse president, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. The Apex houses two permanent exhibits: Africa: The Untold Story and Sweet Auburn: Street of Pride.
18. The Bessie Smith Culture Center
Location: Chattanooga, TN
The Chattanooga African American Museum focused in recognizing the many contributions blacks had made locally. Situated in Chattanooga's once famed 9th Street District, the museum and the Bessie Smith Performance Hall merged in 2009. It continues to serve the city of Chattanooga and is affectionately known as "The Bessie."
19. The National Voting Rights Museum
Location: Selma, AL
Since opening its doors in 1993, the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute honors the lives and work of those who played any role in the events leading to the writing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Located near the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, its exhibits highlight the Selma to Montgomery marches as well as the Civil Rights and Women's Suffrage movements.
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1. Karl Reeves
“It seems like there’s a trio of what black men shoot: Video vixens, black and white pictures of kids in the ghetto, and event photography at rap shows” says Karl Reeves, an Oakland transplant from Wisconsin. But Reeves has broader ideas, and wants to shift the common narratives of the black experience through his photography.
“Historically I was shooting art that reminded me of oppression and I don’t want to do that anymore. All I want to do now is promote the beauty of black people and inspire us to think.” Looking at Reeves’ photos, you can’t help but to dwell in possibility. His shots are bold, inspiring and exalt both the inner and outer beauty of our people.
His new photo series is called “The Perks of Being an Artist” and a continuous theme is the use of plants and flowers. When asked about the rationale he explained, “The Perks of Being an Artist is both good and bad…People treat flowers the same way they treat artists; they’ll come up to me and say ‘Hey that’s a great photo.’ But I am more than just a photo. I have things that I like and favorite foods. Similarly, people only know a fraction of the names of the flowers they say are beautiful. They don’t really know anything about them.”
Through his work, Reeves attempts go beyond the superficial and tap into the inner essence of humanity. His photos speak to an inherent yearning for natural beauty and innocence, and strive to highlight and promote the beauty of black people above all else.
You can find more of his work on his website Film Did Die and you can also follow him on Instagram @35martyrz.
2. Sasha Kelley
Sasha Kelly is a Bay Area native photographer, creative director, and group facilitator who is one of the founding members of Malidoma Collective; a women-led artists collective “with the objective to cultivate a culturally-empowered and socially regenerative community.” Malidoma Collective Website.
Sasha’s had a passion for taking photos since high school, but during her development as an artist, she’s had to navigate the white and male dominated field of photography; “I went to art school for a while and I dropped out for a mixture of reasons. It was expensive; I was going to school full-time and I was exhausted. Also, I was the only person of color in most of my classes. After my third year a lot of my classes came to me either defending the validity of my concepts to my teachers who were mostly white males, or people who remained silent and complicit. I felt like it wasn’t feeding me.”
However, this didn’t deter Sasha from pursuing her passion.She found solace among the black artist community in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco as well as black artist spaces in Oakland however, most of these spaces were male dominated. Sasha states, “We definitely felt like we had to constantly prove ourselves and we felt like our ideas and femininity weren’t being heard.” Eventually she ended up creating the Malidoma Collective with another female artist by the name of queens d.light in 2012. Since then, the collective has provided space for black women in Oakland to express themselves in both artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors by providing donation-based yoga, healing clinics, networking events, performances and artist residencies.
When she’s not working with her collective, Sasha continues to hold space for Oakland’s black community through photography and youth work. You can check out more of her projects on her website and you can follow her on Instagram @yessashakelleyn.
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Recent controversy surrounding the use of African clothing and tradition by African Americans has sparked a debate questioning whether or not African Americans can appropriate African culture. Africa is an integral piece of African American history, which makes it impossible for African Americans to appropriate culture that was part of their historical formation. I believe this dispute comes from a lack of knowledge from numerous groups because of deliberate attempts from outside forces to disconnect the people of the diaspora. Knowing the power of numbers, it's vital to bridge the gap between the groups. Understanding our roots is key in shaping the values and identity that defines our community.
Born of West African immigrants, the opportunity to know and learn my people’s history has always been at my fingertips. Although I was not always welcoming to the idea, I am extremely grateful to have that option. This option isn't available for most African Americans. After being stripped from their land and of their cultural identity by their oppressors, it's unfair for Africans to repeat the same behavior. Just because it isn’t easily accessible, does not negate the fact that African history is indeed part of African-American history. Africans should be more open to African Americans exploring their culture and embodying African traditions, as passing on these values is necessary in keeping them alive.
Growing up in America, I always knew I was different. From the language my parents spoke at home to the food we ate and even the clothes we wore, I saw many differences between myself and my local community. Initially, my cultural differences weren’t an issue for me, as they were all I had ever known. That changed as I got older and more social. As a teenager, the constant need for approval from my peers caused me to hide my culture. In high school, claiming my African heritage wasn’t an easy feat. I was often teased about the food I would bring to school and the accent with which my parents spoke. Despite my negative experiences, my parents always reminded me that no matter what, I was African, a fact I should always be proud of. After college, I found myself both embracing and broadcasting my ethnic identity. The strong cultural affirmation of my parents gave me the foundation I needed to learn to love my heritage. Now I relish in the fact that I can go into my mom’s closet, have access to vintage African attire and live in the uniqueness of my identity. I’ve learned to engage in and be appreciative of my culture and know that it has definitively shaped the person I have become
In contrast to my story, many African Americans don't have the luxury of exploring their heritage. The dehumanization of slavery stripped African Americans of their right to legacy and the effects of this are still felt today. Knowing this reality, why would anyone try to take away African culture from them? As an African woman who has the privilege of direct access to my ethnic heritage, I believe that it's ridiculous for an African to say that our brothers and sisters are appropriating a culture that they were stripped of. Regardless of whether one's able to directly trace where they come from, the history of Africa is beautifully woven by the diaspora. That complex history did not just end in Africa, it traveled the world. Once we can collectively focus on our similarities instead of our differences, we will truly embody the intricate blanket that is Mama Africa.
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Remember the Chappelle's Show segment called "Ask a Black Dude" with Paul Mooney? Ten years later, that classic segment has taken on a new form as the "Anonymously Ask A Black Person" app. Instead of video cameras on the streets of New York, users can download and ask any question they like with an immediate response. I recently talked to Wayne Sutton, AABP founder and creator, about the app, the impact of technology today, and how AABP is innovating the kinds of conversations we have about race.
What was your path into the technology industry?
My path into the tech industry began with exposure. I grew up with an Atari Commodore '64 as a kid, where I played video games and also did my best home repair when it would break. Eventually, my family had a Windows 3.1 computer at home which I immediately adapted to. Growing up, I had a passion for art and drawing which led me to take art class in high school and adapt to the single computer we had in art school. As a child, I wanted my own company, a design firm at that time, which really was the beginning of my entrepreneurial drive. I would say I was a mix between a geek and a nerd that loved good design.
How did you come up with “Anonymously Ask A Black Person?”
There’s not a single point I can focus on to how or why did “Anonymously Ask A Black Person” launch. Part of the reason is that it was Memorial day weekend. I’ve been organizing technical workshops and fireside chats for the past couple of months, and I wanted to build something. Another reason is I saw "Nerd" on Product Hunt a couple of months ago. I thought it was a cool idea and that I could build something similar. Another reason is I read about the text delivery startup "Magic" that raised $12 million and was like, "I could build that." Add those reasons, along with looking at how news and media continue to portray African Americans and recent conversations with some of my non-black friends who shared with me their own stories about being nervous or unsure of how/if to ask a black person would they prefer to be called black or African-American. I was inspired to build.
What’s unique about apps and the type of impact they can have on society?
I’ve been really thinking about this a lot recently. The physiological implications of how apps are affecting our culture will be studied long after we have realized the pros and cons for multiple generations. The technology behind apps has created instant gateways to limitless information, entertainment and wealth. Yet, there are still many cultural and economic problems that exist today [that existed] before mobile and web apps existed such as high unemployment among the African-American community, racial barriers and educational gaps.
When we think about how Twitter changed how we share news and created the “real time” communication channel, it moved an entire industry forward. The same can be said about Facebook, giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. But we can also say “with more apps, comes more responsibility” as the app generation has also created online mobs with groupthink mentality along with clear distinctions connected to culture and racial lines of who are — the app makers and the consumers.
What are some of the most interesting questions people have asked?
We’ve had almost every type of question you would expect from but here are some of our most interesting along with the answers.
Q: Why do black people on average have such low IQs compared to whites and Asians?
A: Black people don't have low IQs. We have the most underrated IQ :-)
Q: What's the best way that I, as a white person, can help people of color?
A: Educate yourself on the race issues the USA has and continues to experience. Understanding the why is a big part of being able to help
Q: Is it true that 50 percent of the time a black person is pulled over its because he was driving while black?
A: DWB is definitely alive. I am not sure on your statistics, but I am sure it is right on from personal experiences :-)
Q: What is the most important thing you are concerned about in your life?
A: How to leave this world better than when I entered it :-)
We usually tag our responses with “-your friendly neighborhood black person #aabp”
The topic of race relations is often accompanied by a call for “dialogue.” How does AABP bring nuance to the conversation?
If we just look at the last 12 months of race-related news in America and how the different perceptions of black people are viewed in addition to the hashtags, blog post and marches you would think it's August 28, 1963. Not only do we still need an open dialogue about race, but we need multiple ways to have the dialogue. AABP provides a safe way for anyone to ask a question to a black person anonymously.
I used to be against anonymity but now seeing how easy it is for online mobs to create an unsafe environment for people of all races and genders, if anonymity can be used to break down racial barriers through questions via SMS then why not?
To quote Carl Sagan in his work, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he said: “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”.
What are some of the takeaways you hope users have of black people after using the app?
At AABP we keep in mind that we are not speaking for all black people. But because myself and the rest of the team are all black, we realize how an answer from our site can be portrayed as a voice for black people. Therefore we have adopted a set of core values: be authentic, communicate with compassion and empathy, provide value, be creative, innovate with technology, enhance community and have fun. We hope the takeaways that our users have include that black people are creative, intellectual individuals who do not portray any single stereotype. We also hope the takeaway is not so much the answer we provide, but what the intellectual and emotional “WHY” the person is asking the question and what does that say about them and their experiences.
What advice do you have for young creatives?
The advice I have for young creatives is threefold. One — learn to build. There’s a reason my company is called BUILDUP. You can BUILDUP intellect, relationships, communites, people, apps, ideas and more. But learning the skills and the experience you gain by building are priceless.
The second piece of advice would be to tell stories, preferably by writing. I’m mostly referring to blogging and social media. Storytelling is also a great way to build a name for yourself, educate others and change lives. If writing's not your strong suit, then learn how to tell stories via podcast or online video.
The last piece of advice would be to think world changing. Let’s take a look at the one of Steve Jobs' many famous quotes. “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” The keyword here is “THINK.” Once you start thinking that you are going to change the world and start examining ways that you are going to change the world, that will keep you in a mindset of growth and scale. Think big, think impactful and change the world.
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Dani* and I had only met half an hour ago in Tsinga, at least in person.
We had been introduced through a mutual friend on Facebook a few weeks earlier while I was still in the U.S. She had been living in Yaoundé for a while and our friend thought it would be a good idea to put us in touch. After about two weeks of settling in, acclimating and finally conceding to my desperate need to eat ndole, it was time to replace the virtual with a face to face interaction. Preferably, at a restaurant over a plate of my favorite Cameroonian dish.
But before either of us had had the chance to make a dent in our chairs or submit our orders under the auspices of air conditioning, she demanded I explain myself.
“Do they actually think you’re Cameroonian?” she asked.
I am African American, a fact we both knew, one that defined us both and that I never denied.
I, like her, am not the daughter of immigrants, but the offspring of Africans displaced and enslaved to build an entire continent’s empire. I bear the marks of a citizenship that finds every opportunity to deny I exist. This is further exacerbated by the fact that my country obliterated my history so that I’ll never definitively know I existed anywhere else. This is how I learned I was a “problem,” the kind DuBois talked about.
I came to Cameroon not through proximity of blood but through the transformation of a diasporic distance that defined me generations before I held the American passport that got me in. Dani was reminding me to remember that. To never forget, as if my memory of these circumstances were an option. It had never been before.
Sitting there, dumbfounded, with a stomach too close to eating its own lining to respond, I didn’t understand why she expected that day to be any different.
She clarified. While pouring Tangui mineral water into the wine glass, Dani recounted all the ways she found herself unable to escape her foreign, regardless of how hard she tried: her locs; her hesitant handedness with Maggi; a revolutionary tongue, wanting to connect, but not through French; the way she walked around the quartier. All of them giveaways, confounding her in their irreconcilability, despite her skin.
“Do you get that?” she asked, the question almost rhetorical. “You’re lighter than me!” Despite the fresh box braids, I was the quintessential March residue of a D.C. winter because my melanin did as much hibernating as the sun. But I was also the structure sitting between a woman and her right to claim her home, burning in my chair as someone else’s sacrificial offering.
For what? For resolution? The goal has never been to not be a paradox, but to dismantle the conditions that have made us into contradictions.
That day, Dani sat across from me, disappointed, trying to make sense of how her blackness, proved inadequate to grant her the status of being Cameroonian.
In her essay, “Learning from the '60s,” Audre Lorde wrote, “You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same.” She and I, as African Americans, share with Cameroonians the experience of a global system of anti-Black racism wielded against people of African descent. But that experience shifts and mutates from one location to another.
The search for home does not entitle us to collapse those differences.
Whenever we deny this, a new battle is waged. A false sense of security is fostered for the sake of finding home in our skin. Under the guise of racial solidarity and historical consolation, the desire to come off as Cameroonian masked a hope to forge kinship through the mechanisms of appropriation through erasure. The historical, social and political economic legacies that have materialized into present-day Cameroon paled in comparison to the trauma of our ancestors’ enslavement. As if being African American gave us a right to ignore this, simply for the color of our skin. As if we hadn’t seen the effects of this stance before. Two thousand miles away from where we were sitting, in Liberia, stands a national capital city named after a US President, the only one other than D.C., where we returned and colonized our own kin.
Here we were, Dani and I in Cameroon witnessing history repeat itself for a veritable Africanness with more grounding in our imaginations than in the roads we were becoming accustomed to walking. Despite how relentlessly this new soil stained us, we found ourselves narrating the terms of our new relationship by referencing an old familiar script.
Meanwhile, the same logic that made us both Black in the US was being deployed to frame how either one of us was more (or less) African than the other in a different country. In the U.S., we were told we were Black because we had at least one African ancestor, a technique used to erase the mixed ancestry of Black people to propagate the sanctity and superiority myths of whiteness that legitimized White supremacy. Here, on the other side of the Atlantic, the ghost of whiteness joined us at the table, now through a revitalized colorism. Skin color has been one of the primary means of denying us our humanity, only to have us clawing at each other’s throats by granting those with lighter skin privileges at the expense of those of us with darker complexions.
Instead of words, Dani and I found ourselves exchanging identities. An American-defined Africanness for an African-American-defined Cameroonian one. But the price for this "new" authenticity was the same: erasure.
This is how we met each other: seated, not quite ready to order, but no less prepared to eat ndole... and each other.
*Dani is a pseudonym.
This essay is a part of Blavity’s #AyoFam Series, where we feature the essays of Black Folks of the diaspora where we check in to make sure we learn how to better take care of ourselves and each other.
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I’m not gonna tell you what percentage of white I am so you can judge how entitled I am to be in this space. That’s why I say I’m black. I think it’s pushing back to say “black” (instead of mixed). I’d never thought about it that way, that the person asking us what we “are” is equating whiteness with superiority; the more white we are the better, the more entitled, the more worthy. Few do this consciously, but such is the insidious nature of “Whiteness.” I look past her eyes as she talks and wonder how much my own identification is wrapped up in white is better.
DuBois called it double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others…a low-grade unrest you adjust to like a lumpy scar. The knowing that every time you walk into a room people are looking. They notice, they stare, they ascribe stories. We don’t get to blend in, to disappear, to be in the cut or on the low. In many ways a blessing, as it forces us to take up space, to find the ground beneath our feet, to stand firm and be unforgettable. She continues, I was raised to be like a show pony, with impeccable manners. I always thought, if I go into a situation and act properly I won’t be looked down upon. If I don’t act black. I knew what she meant. So tiring for a child. So tiring still.
Z owns a restaurant in New York. She’s a mix of grace and fire, African American, Northern and Southern, Jew and Gentile. As she goes to the kitchen to get our food, my mind chases a memory. Don’t tell me what I am or have to be. Let me be. Me. Maybe it’s black, maybe it’s mixed, maybe it’s none of your business. My dad was a Jamaican immigrant who had little in common with American “blacks” other than skin color. My family never ate watermelon, had family reunions or anything else considered “black” by American definitions. So does having brown skin make me “black?” Absolutely and not at all. How dare you, you self-hater! If you don’t say you’re black you’re denying your blackness, negating your roots. The truth is you have no idea. You don’t know me. And neither does the white guy who asks to touch my hair. Let us define ourselves. Stop your poking, prodding, judging, scolding.
I say I’m black because it’s an act of rebellion. It goes back to the “N” word. Either you’re the Big “N” or the other. So when I say I’m black I’m challenging someone to see me as the Big “N.”
I ask her what advice she would give to parents of mixed kids. Let them be themselves. Let them smear ice cream on the walls. Don’t make them feel like their behavior is a signal of their blackness.
Let them be. Let us be
Perfectly mixed is a new series brought to you by Abby Allen. Check out her work and share this piece if you liked it!
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