Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Smithsonian Gets a New Boss

Last year, Lonnie G. Bunch III explained why the Smithsonian was holding a day-long symposium called “Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory.” Monuments to Confederate leaders, he said, began going up in public squares throughout the United States in the decades before and after the dawn of the 20th century, the same time that images of Native Americans began to be used as mascots, product labels and advertising logos.
The "Castle", home of Smithsonian administration

“It’s all about white supremacy and racism,” said the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The affront to Native Americans and the treatment of this country’s African American population weren’t just about marginalization in everyday life but also about the erasure of their dignity in our historical consciousness.
The stuffed elephant in the atrium of the Natural History Museum

“You can make them caricatures . . . and they fall outside of narrative history,” Bunch said in remarks quoted on the Smithsonian Magazine website.

The significance of Bunch’s appointment as the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, announced Tuesday, goes far beyond the simple fact that he is the first African American to hold the job. The news was received ecstatically within the institution, not just because Bunch is smart and affable, and has on his résumé an unparalleled accomplishment, having served since 2005 as founding director of the Smithsonian’s newest franchise, the African American Museum, which opened in 2016. Bunch also is the first museum director to be named head of the Smithsonian in almost 75 years, which means he understands the museums, which are the Smithsonian’s greatest scholarly and public asset. But the importance of his tenure surpasses any institutional concerns.
Georgia posing behind a Megalodon jaw
at the Museum of Natural History

That Bunch can talk comfortably, in public, about white supremacy could change not only the Smithsonian, but also the culture of the country it represents. Bunch’s comments last year were made about a symposium that looked across racial and ethnic lines, and across disciplines, and down the larger and multiple avenues of history. There’s no way to recognize the operation and impact of white supremacy without that kind of interdisciplinary worldview and the ability to range across all the disciplines incorporated in the Smithsonian’s scientific, cultural, historical and artistic mandate. And there’s no way to make sense of the pervasiveness of white supremacy without the kind of experience Bunch has spent a lifetime gathering. . . .
I hope I'm wrong, but this may be a test case for "Get Woke, Go Broke". I also suspect, the with his history as SJW, and having a strictly museum background, that the research side of the institution, the outlying research centers,  and even the research side of the museums will get short shrift.

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