Practice what you preach
As I look at all the things I have to wrap up, I find myself having to place some insurance on how the African American story is going to be told in my absence. I take pride in the work that I have done to make the story of the enslaved told, and now I have to pass the torch. But there’s one catch. I have to train not another African American, I have to train my co-workers who are all white, in the fine art of telling people exactly what the experience was like for slaves. I’m doing this at a third person site but I have to invoke confidence in some who believe that your audience is only receptive to the slave story if the one telling it is black.
Here’s the thing though, not all black folks have a connection to slavery. There were people who were of African descent and free. Shocking but true. And some of those free blacks owned slaves. Double shock. (By the way, there is a theme of sarcasm running here) The point is, just because someone’s skin color connects them to one particular story, it doesn’t mean that they belong to that part of the story. Now when it comes to interpretation and you are just doing third person, you have to get it in your mind and keep it there.
There are constant arguments about who should tell the story of slavery. Is it more appropriate for African Americans to talk about it? Should a site ignore the issue if they don’t have the staffing to tell the story? For both accounts I say absolutely not. Anybody who is willing to talk about it should take the chance and interpret the enslaved experience. All you have to do is be honest in your approach, and talk about what you know. The visitor will be pleased just to know that you’re willing and able.
Why do we limit ourselves to what we can or cannot present? Why is it so difficult to expand our horizons or our perspective? My true challenge in the next few weeks is to break down the walls and get everyone to really embrace the story and have it told properly. We certainly don’t have all the information to paint exactly what happened on the plantation, but we can have confidence to share whatever it is we know, practicing what we preach.