Photo: Washington Post Photo By Jahi Chikwendiu
WASHINGTON – The National Museum of African American History and Culture removed a graphic that attempted to describe “aspects and assumptions about white culture” from its website Thursday after criticism from conservatives that it was racist.
The graphic, found in the “Whiteness” section of the Smithsonian museum’s “Talking About Race” portal, described 14 categories of “white dominant culture, or whiteness,” including history, religion, family structure and justice. Hard work, self-reliance, respect of authority and “the nuclear family – father, mother, 2.3 children is the ideal social unit” were listed as attributes of white culture. The chart also included the phrases “win at all costs,” “woman’s beauty based on blonde, thin – ‘Barbie’ ” and “heavy value on ownership of goods, space and property.”
Criticism of the graphic took off this week. On social media, conservative author Ben Shapiro described the chart as crazy and evil and said it “suggests all pathways to success – hard work, stable family structure, individual decision-making – represent complicity in white supremacy.” President Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the graphic on Wednesday and tied to it the presidential campaign, writing, “These aren’t ‘white’ values. They’re American values that built the world’s greatest civilization. They help you succeed here, no matter your color. So make no mistake, Biden’s radicals aren’t coming for ‘whites,’ they’re coming for the entire American way of life.”
Museum officials apologized and removed the material, which had been online since May 31, saying it did not contribute to the discussion as planned, interim director Spencer Crew said Friday.
“The whole idea behind the portal is how do we give tools to people to have these conversations that are vital to moving forward. This was one of those tools,” Crew said. “We have found it’s not working in the way we intended. We erred in including it.”
But Crew said the chart is not racist. “We’re trying to talk about ideology, not about people,” he said. “We are encouraging people to think about the world they live in and how they navigate it. It’s important to talk about it to grow and get better.”
The website will continue to evolve, Crew said. “This comes out of almost a decade of work,” he said. “We will make additions, and we will do things to make it better. We listen to a variety of comments and take them into account.”
The “Talking About Race” portal was created as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests and marches for racial justice across the nation. It features exercises, role-playing activities, videos and links to scholarly writing that explore eight areas: bias; race and racial identity; the historical foundations of race; whiteness; being anti-racist; community building; social identities and systems of oppression; and self-care.
The chart came from a 1978 book, “White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training” by Judy H. Katz, according to the museum. It lists about 50 attributes white people used to describe their culture. These attributes, it said, “have been normalized over time and are now considered standard practices in the United States. And since white people still hold most of the institutional power in America, we all have internalized some aspects of white culture, including people of color.”
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