The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis is an absolute must for any visitor to north Mississippi.
Barry and I have tried to make it a few times, but daunted by long lines, have opted for beers and BBQ elsewhere in Memphis. Today we ignored the lines, purchased the family pass, and spent a few hours soaking in the incredible amount of information. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried in a museum before today, but… in front of the burned Freedom Rider bus, a little girl turned to ask her mom “who burned the bus?” And her grandma replied, “people who didn’t like what we were doing.”
As a teen in the north west, racism always seemed like a southern problem – limited to geographic boundaries suggested by electoral maps, and history text books. It occurred to me when I was 16 or 17 that it wasn’t that we didn’t have a race problem, it’s that we didn’t have to deal with it… northerners could shift the blame as long as it was politely done. People were quietly racist – the way they pulled their purses away from my step brother, Royce, or followed my friends in college into the store to see if they were stealing. The quiet acceptance of a national narrative that labeled muslims and arab nationals as terrorists or radicals, African American youth as criminals, rappers or gang bangers, and the Asian students as incredibly brilliant while dangerous on the road has been the norm. We continue to perpetuate horrific, degrading stereotypes of LGBTQ communities, and to speak of hate crimes, and an uptick in anti Semitic crimes as the melodramatic ramblings of liberal snowflakes… and to default to these labels rather than describing one another by personality and character traits – allowing our everyday patterns of speech to open the door to where our neighbors are less than us.
Today, an older African American woman turned to me, and gave voice to what I was thinking “huh. We’ve come a long way, you and I standing here… but still…”
Exactly, but still…We have a long way to go before we can tackle the injustices of the past, and the present… I’d like to think it starts with sitting down to listen.