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National African-American museum removes, apologizes for ‘Whiteness’ chart

by Anne Branigin —

Following an outcry from conservatives, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has removed a graphic from its website that attempted to explain how deeply embedded white-dominant culture and values are in American culture.

The chart, entitled “Aspects and Assumptions of Whiteness and White Culture in the United States” identifies different aspects of American life — holidays, the justice system, communication, history — that have been shaped by white-dominant thought and values.

As The Washington Post reports, the graphic was part of the “Whiteness” section of the Smithsonian museum’s “Talking About Race” portal, available online since May 31. The online materials were intended to help spark conversations about race in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across the country.

The graphic is pulled from the 1978 book, “White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training” by Judy H. Katz, according to the Smithsonian. In total there are 14 sections, with bullet points underneath identifying values or norms attributed to whiteness. Under “Communication,” for instance, the graphic points to “The King’s English” and “avoid conflict, intimacy” as aspects of white culture. Under “Protestant Work Ethic,” the chart lists, “If you didn’t meet your goals, you didn’t work hard enough” and “hard work is the key to success.” Under “Status, Power and Authority,” respect for authority and the belief that “your job is who you are,” are listed as attributes of whiteness.

“Rugged individualism” — which emphasizes that individual people control their environment, as well as a family structure where the husband is the breadwinner and the head of the household — are also listed.

The list appears meant to be a bit jarring. These are values commonly held, instilled and promoted in generations of American households and workplaces, including those run by people of color. A description included in the graphic suggests that’s the point.

These values and attributes “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,” the graphic explains.

At any rate, the MAGA set got wind of the graphic recently and ran a favorite play from the White Grievance Playbook: whine on Twitter about how your country is being taken away.

“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,” tweeted Donald Trump Jr. last Wednesday. He even found a way to link former Vice President Joe Biden to the educational graphic. “Biden’s radicals aren’t coming for ‘whites,’ they’re coming for the entire American way of life.”

If by “American way of life” Don Jr. means a society predicated on rampant, unchecked capitalism; racial caste; wealth inequality and exploitation of the marginalized — then, yes! Wow, that was surprisingly astute of him.

Spencer Crew, interim director of the NMAAHC, maintained that the chart is not racist — “We’re trying to talk about ideology, not about people” he told the Post.

“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.”

Still, the museum decided to take down the chart because “it’s not working in the way we intended.”

“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,” said Crew. “We erred in including it.”

Photo credit: National Museum of African American History and Culture (Photo: Frank Schulenburg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87514400)

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