“White culture” chart removed from the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture site

Although I’ve heard from friends who have visited Washington, D. C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) that it’s a fantastic place, its online presence suffered from the adoption and proselytizing of Critical Race Theory (CRT), at least on this page about “Whiteness.

Yesterday I posted two posters from that page about the nature of white culture, which you can see at the preceding link. The posters gave a ridiculous stereotype of white culture, were pretty close to being racist, and, in fact, if you saw the posters as an implicit contrast with black culture, it would be extremely racist towards blacks as well.  Since yesterday, those posters have disappeared. Clearly the pushback against them was strong—and rightly so. I doubt that my own criticism had any influence on this, though I haven’t trawled the Internet to see who discussed those graphics. (This incident has already made it onto the NMAAHC’s Wikipedia page.)

Reader Rik G and others informed me that the NMAAHC has added a statement explaining why they removed the graphics. To wit: :

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we believe that any productive conversation on race must start with honesty, respect for others, and an openness to ideas and information that provide new perspectives.

In that context, we recently unveiled “Talking About Race,” an online portal providing research, studies, and other academic materials from the fields of history, education, psychology, and human development. Our goal in doing so was to contribute to a discussion on this vitally important subject that millions of Americans are grappling with.

Since yesterday, certain content in the “Talking About Race” portal has been the subject of questions that we have taken seriously. We have listened to public sentiment and have removed a chart that does not contribute to the productive discussion we had intended.

The site’s intent and purpose are to foster and cultivate conversations that are respectful and constructive and provide increased understanding. As an educational institution, we value meaningful dialogue and believe that we are stronger when we can pause, listen, and reflect—even when it challenges us to reconsider our approach. We hope that this portal will be an ever-evolving place that will continue to grow, develop, and ensure that we listen to one another in a spirit of civility and common cause.

Despite all the talk about “conversations,” respect, and “constructive dialogue”, though, the page still remains a repository of CRT. The videos of Robin DiAngelo (about whom we’ll have more to say later) and bell hooks are still there, along with discourses on white fragility, white privilege, microaggressions, and so on.  As far as I can see, nothing was removed save the videos. The remaining part of the website still sounds like a hectoring indoctrination session given to captive college students by diversity administrators.

Not that there’s no point in discussing these issues, but the way it’s done is as far from a “conversation” as I can see. There is no respect for those being lectured to, only the implication that “Listen up—this is the truth.”

When I went to Auschwitz a few years ago, the exhibit spoke for itself, there were no posters about the evils of anti-Semitism, just a stark presentation of pictures of the new inmates, presentation of the “judicial” rooms, prison cells, and wall where people were shot, piles of possessions removed from those interned and killed (toys, artificial limbs, glasses, suitcases, razors, and, most affecting, the hair shaved from women), and, finally, a visit to the barracks itself from a highly trained guide who just told us what everything was. That was infinitely more moving than having lectures about the demonization of Jews. The whole visit spoke for itself, and both my companion and I were deeply moved. In fact, the companion, a German woman, was so distressed that she refused to speak German for a week, so ashamed was she of her people.

Why couldn’t the exhibit at the NMAAHC speak for itself this way—without the CRT and lecturing? Even the websites could have been constructed to convey a stark message of the evils of racism and the difficulties of the black experience in America. But that is not the way things go today. We must have hectoring. We must be told where we’ve sinned and why we need to repent.

36 Comments

  1. Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The hectoring, and the general tone of smug superiority to whites (as if black people cannot be racist) is most distasteful. And counter-productive. The long run effect of this type of rhetoric, I believe, will be to turn white people away from real social justice.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      It’s turning people against each other and distracting from real solutions.
      And frankly, those graphics were so racist against black people too as to resemble something written in Nazi Germany.

  2. dd
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne writes: “But that is not the way things go today. We must have hectoring. We must be told where we’ve sinned and why we need to repent.”

    Could it be that racism, like homophobia and sexism, has been so attenuated in American society that hectoring is in order to aggrandize its severity?

    BTW, one individual who discussed widely those chart/posters at the Smithsonian is Thomas Chatterton Williams, who is much worth following on Twitter.

    • lesliefish
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      So these are supposed to be the foundations of only *White* culture? Aren’t any of these shared by, say, Asian culture? Or Native American culture? Or Latino culture? And just why are these characteristics supposed to be the enemy of Black culture?

  3. aburstein
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    They might have removed that poster, but it’s questionable that they actually have disavowed the views on the poster because the document that the poster was based on is STILL available on their site. You can see it right here.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      Interesting that the document dates back to 1990 and yet is presented as though current. Have none of us, white or black, changed in the last 30 years?

  4. A C Harper
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    In today’s polarised world if you are certain you are totally right then everybody else *must* be totally wrong.

  5. jezgrove
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Good that the egregious chart has gone.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Cool, now they can box it up, ship it across the Smithsonian campus to its Museum of Modern Art, and display it in the kitsch section, which is where it belonged in the first place.

  7. Posted July 17, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    That poster read like it was written by a white supremacist—someone crediting the white race with inventing “rational thinking” and “hard work” and “respecting authority” and “PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE” (Really? That’s a quality of whiteness?) and the idea that progress is good. A person would have to be tremendously ignorant about world cultures to think that those are all uniquely white values. I suspect most adherents to critical race theory haven’t spent much time outside the U.S.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Also, the right-wing media had a field day with this. (And it should have been totally predictable that they WOULD.) It’s as if the woke critical theorists WANT to get Trump re-elected.

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Maybe they do. If they think it will help their cause.

        • drosophilist
          Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          I believe it’s called “accelerating the contradictions.” “The worse things get, the more support there shall be for our glorious people’s revolution!”

          • Adam M.
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

            There are “accelerationists” on both sides playing this dangerous game.

        • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

          Or if they’re so myopic as to think getting Trump reelected is a strategy to “burn it all down.” I have seen Sanders supporters say having Trump get in is preferable to supporting Biden because it will help destroy the system (this was on a friend’s FB page).

          • Doug
            Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

            If electing Trump didn’t destroy the system after the 2016 election, why would it after this election?

  8. Posted July 17, 2020 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Funny that you should mention the impact of visiting Auschwitz and seeing what the results of believing by many in a group-based condemnation of some other group can look like. And horrifyingly real.

    I, too, visited but back in the 60s and right after I spent time in apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union. What floored me at the time – I was very young – was that I was seeing what a belief in a group-based narrative looked like when acted upon by states in the treatment of how people were treated… much like a religious belief in a group-based narrative equivalently assumed to be both descriptive and true. I realized that grouping people into some membership always causes social division and injustice because this belief creates the necessary conditions to frame people into belonging to some tribal Us and Them. Always.

    So what I saw in South Africa, saw in Poland, saw in Soviet Russia, was what belief about different but equivalent group-based narratives about real people looked like, that acting on this belief reduced and divided real people into partisan and competing tribal camps. The culprit in each case was actually the same thing: a willingness by normal and nice and concerned people to believe in this group-based narrative. I saw that it was this group-based belief that powered incredible inhumane treatment… of real individuals in real life with real harm. I saw my personal responsibility to be that I would never allow myself to give in to this narrative structure or I, too, could become a monster… and think myself ethical and moral for doing atrocious things.

    After that realization, I could no more be religious than I could drop cylinders of Zyklon B into sealed chambers and think well of myself. The danger of today’s woke ideology is that the theories that underpin it requires the same belief in a group-based narrative. I cannot see how this time the group-based belief will turn out well.

    • Historian
      Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Was there ever a time when group based narratives did not exist? I don’t think so. As much as we may dislike them, in theory at least, they exist because human beings gain dignity by identifying with them, whether that group be a religion, ethnic group, race, or even a sports team. They are a fact of life that will never disappear. The best we can do is to mitigate the tendency of differing groups to resort to group violence.

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        How true! And very human. But we can do our individual part to try our best not to give in to this impulse (unless benign… like in sports, for example) if we know how susceptible we are to it and recognize the signs when we import it into our real lives. I think of it like anger: it’s going to affect us when it surfaces but how we respond to it is up to each of us. Believing the narrative is real over and above the people we categorize into such groups is I think the core problem we can overcome… especially in law to keep individual autonomy superior to group-based membership.

  9. Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    “When I went to Auschwitz a few years ago, the exhibit spoke for itself, there were no posters about the evils of anti-Semitism, just a stark presentation of pictures of the new inmates, presentation of the “judicial” rooms, prison cells…”

    In Cincinnati, Ohio, (where I grew up) there is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I visited it when it first opened, and I remember seeing a highly realistic exhibit of terrified, half naked slaves in chains being guarded by dour armed white men. I was there with my then girlfriend (now wife), and I was so overcome with emotion at the sight of it that I openly started weeping. My girlfriend was aghast because that was an extremely unusual reaction from me…

    No, I didn’t need a lecture on the evils of slavery…a realistic portrayal of people in chains was more than enough.

  10. rickflick
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I would say the institution hires new graduates from colleges that ingrain this hectoring attitude in students. They probably gave some of them free reign. So, whose in charge over there?

  11. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    It’s nice that this idiotic, racist chart was removed. How did it make it through the reviewing process that must exist for the NMAAHC? They should check what other great stuff she put on their site to avoid further embarrassment.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      The attribution of science to “white culture” was incredibly racist and stupid. First, it’s highly inaccurate, as many other cultures value objectivity and reason in determining the nature of reality. Should we consider all of the Asians who are so successful in the STEM fields as “sell-outs” to their Asian heritage? What about those from Arab backgrounds, whose ancestors made important discoveries in fields like mathematics and astronomy?

      Second, it’s so transparently counter-productive to the nonwhite people that all of these efforts are supposed to help. In his book “Losing the Race”, John McWhorter (a black linguistics professor whose name has been mentioned on this blog) asserts that contemporary African-American culture (to be strongly distinguished from other black cultures, such as blacks from the West Indies) has in general a lower appreciation for precision in school work relative to the rest of the population. He gives examples from teaching black kids, and considers it a major obstacle to academic success for them. He does, however, think that it can be addressed by good teachers who are aware of the problem.

      Assuming McWhorter is correct that this relatively lower appreciation for precision in academics is indeed an aspect of black american culture, we can approach this in two ways:

      One, we can as McWhorter did, conceptualize the problem as “Precision in thinking is very important, and we need to help black kids get better at that.”

      OR, we can do what the Woke seem to do now with these issues. Since black kids seem to be having an issue with precision, it must be because this concept of Precision itself is problematic. Precision must be an element of the hostile white culture that we need to address, perhaps by modifying courses to be more amenable to this relaxed attitude towards accuracy and objectivity. Then black kids will thrive in school.

      This to me is the very nature of the “bigotry of low expectations”. I am seriously driven to distraction and despair by the fact that the exact wrong way to approach these problems has now become the standard.

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        “we can approach this in two ways:”

        I should have said “one of two ways”.

      • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        This is my biggest fear – not of being called “racist” (that already happened over the weekend) but that successful people of color are now being labeled “white” and/or “white-adjacent” – yes, that is a thing – for the mere fact of being successful or trying to be.
        The word “white” is now changing meaning so quickly that the goalposts are moved daily and there can be no skepticism or falsification of the claims made. But attacking the very foundations of equality in order to hector those who achieved a piece of it will not hurt white me as much as it will hurt those who 1) perhaps came from repressive regimes in which they were imprisoned or even tortured 2) are or pass for “white” but are poor, non-native English speakers, unemployed, or have some aspect of unrecognized “intersectionality.” All victims are equal, but some are more equal than other victims.

  12. Jon Gallant
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    The hectoring, splenetic tone and the contrived terminology are intrinsic to this kind of discourse for three reasons.

    (1) It started in Academia, alongside of Feminist Philosophy, Cultural Theory, Postmodernism, etc. etc.. So it is endlessly self-referential and full of invented words that stand for other words. [In STEM they invented words like “electron” and “virus”; we’ll show them, now we have new words too!]

    (2) Operators of the Diversity Consultant hustle are paid, in effect, by the word. So, lots of hectoring, special terminology, and mock scholarship is a critical component of their bottom line.

    (3) The prevalence of the hustle, and the
    willingness of liberal administrations to indulge it, provides a golden opportunity for blowhards and exhibitionists—hence, again,
    all the hectoring, noise, and word salad.

    The last point is not, of course, limited to the Left. The eruption of narcissistic personality disorder on all sides presumably has social causes—which would be worth some serious, psycho-sociological inquiry. Jon
    Haidt ascribes it to recent trends in child-rearing, but I fear that something deeper and more discouraging may be taking place.

    • Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Very interesting comment.

      Question. Are the fields of Cultural Theory, PoMo, Gender Studies, etc…

      A) Legitimate fields of inquiry (as in they can expand our understanding of reality, which includes human nature) that have unfortunately been taken over by blowhards and incompetents OR

      B) Poorly conceived structures of ideas that have little to any correspondence to reality to begin with, and should not be considered legitimate areas of academic study fulls stop.

      Example: Category A might include a biology department that has been taken over by Lysenkoism. Category B might include a conception of human behavior based entirely on Freud’s ideas, or a department that conceives of the world entirely based on Catholic Theology.

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        I am sometimes tempted to make the sweeping generalisation that any course with the words ‘Studies’ or ‘Theory’ in the title is likely to be completely bogus and to have no place in a serious institute of learning.

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted July 17, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Category A would apply to departments like
        Sociology and Anthropology, in which I gather there have been bitter disputes between the scholars of the earlier kind and PoMo types.
        The failure of the latter to take over in
        traditional departments is quite possibly the reason for the formation of the new-fangled, grievance-based departments, although I don’t know the academic history in detail.

  13. AcademicLurker
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    When I first saw that “white culture” chart circulating on twitter, I was 95% sure it must be a Sokal style hoax. I’m still floored that it’s real.

    At this point you could make a whole game out of taking things like this and asking people to guess whether they come from a far right white nationalist website or an ultra-woke diversity training seminar. Half the time it’s impossible to tell the difference.

    • lesliefish
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 4:24 am | Permalink

      That’s the point; there really *is no difference*. Racism, like other bigotries, comes in dozens of flavors — including Black racism, which we’re seeing a lot of these days.

  14. eric
    Posted July 17, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    That chart was so bad I’m going with the “an intern must’ve snuck it through review” hypothesis some of the other commenters brought up.

    Ken, forget moving it to another museum. They could literally display it in the NMAAHC itself as an example of anti-black racist stereotyping.

    • Tony
      Posted July 18, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      The problem is, I believe this is common thinking and for a few seconds the curtain has been pulled back. They will continue to think this (and teach it in universities) after the furor dies down.

  15. Posted July 17, 2020 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    So … White Culture has been Canceled?

    Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I thought the point of the poster might have been to let white people walk a few steps in black shoes. That is, I’ve never before seen my whole race lumped into one description as if there were no interesting variations between us. It’s pretty disturbing. And that disturbance was pretty educational.

    Fire when ready, Gridley.

  16. Posted July 17, 2020 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    I do so wish that the museum had provided historical information about the science, mathematics, religion, arts, literature, etc. that came from non-white cultures throughout a significant period of history and provided a basis for so-called “white” sciences, etc. We may be excessively Eurocentric now, but it hasn’t always been that way and the study of history will prove it.

    Look at the surnames of successful scientists, teachers, doctors, etc. and notice the many, many names that are not Anglo “white”. Achievement is not exclusive to “whites”.

  17. Tony
    Posted July 18, 2020 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I saw this chart a few days ago, and I was interested, because I didn’t know what “white culture” was. It turns out that it was American culture that immigrants for centuries have embraced so their lives could be much better.

    But if blacks consider this “white culture” and they don’t embrace it, then much of the problems in the black community make a lot more sense.

    When you make choices that follow the “white culture” poster, you have a better chance of succeeding at life. When you make choices against the “white culture” poster, you have a better chance of failing at life.


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