On 26 April 2018, America opened the doors to a new museum. It won’t display dinosaur bones, nor ancient treasures, but rather it will memorialise the victims of white supremacy. In America, white supremacy remains pervasive in contemporary society and this museum has the opportunity to open up new discussions that could lead to real change.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy. As stated by The New York Times, “it demands a reckoning with one of the nation’s least recognised atrocities: the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racist terror.” The justifications for such brutality are harrowingly heinous. Recounting the reasoning for some lynchings, the Times notes that one Parks Banks was lynched for carrying a photograph of a white woman. Caleb Gadly faced a similar fate for “walking behind the wife of his white employer.” In an utterly shocking account, a pregnant Mary Turner was hung upside down and burnt for protesting her husband’s lynching.
Whilst contemporary racial terror does not manifest itself as public lynchings, white supremacy and its effects are still present in society. The museum serves to highlight white supremacy’s unfortunate continuity, providing accounts of the domestic slave trade, the segregation of the Jim Crow laws, and current mass incarcerations.
The significance of this museum is manifold. First and foremost, the memorial dignifies the victims of white supremacy who were dehumanised through racial prejudice and racist actions. However, the museum’s thought-provoking nature is also important in stimulating discussion about the racial inequality that is still undeniably present, both in America and globally. According to The Guardian, two American brothers were stopped and searched by police after ‘fist-bumping’ each other in late February. In early April, two black men were arrested for trespassing whilst waiting for friends in Starbucks. As reported by The Washington Post this week, a Floridian teenager captured media attention via a poster that read, “If I was black I’d be picking cotton, but I’m white so I’m picking U 4 prom?.” Such instances in conjunction with more violent expressions of racial prejudice are indicative of the racism that still pervades contemporary societies. In essence, these occurrences highlight that white supremacy produces discourses that dehumanise and lessen people of colour. Whether such discourses are adopted through conscious or unconscious biases, the effects remain damaging.
Considering the current state of white supremacy in America, the museum presents an opportunity for questioning and deconstructing various hegemonic discourses. Although steps have already been taken to address this, as evidenced by the ensuing protests and media attention to each of the aforementioned events, more must be done to prevent the violence that comes from the modern manifestations of white supremacy. In a statement to The New York Times, Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative who pioneered the museum, noted that the museum was not designed to “punish America,” but rather “liberate” it. This concept is especially evident in the museum’s exits, which include voter registration booths, volunteer opportunities, and information to encourage discussion. Cumulatively, this establishes the museum to be not only a place of remembrance, but one that promulgates learning, growth, and change.
Fundamentally, addressing racial inequality and the effects of white supremacy is a matter of humanity, of recognising the inherent equality of persons and striving to ensure that contemporaneous behaviour and thought reflects that same equality.
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