Washington, DC celebrated the opening of The National Museum of African American History & Culture on September 24, 2016 with notable singers, musicians, actors, and celebrities. Its long-awaited release met every expectation as the opening was commemorated with descendants of enslaved ancestors aptly demonstrating how much closer our society is to our difficult past. David Adjaye, a Ghanaian British architect, intentionally wanted the building itself to encapsulate the narrative of African American history. Influenced by the Yoruba people through its inverted triple crown pyramid design, which is prominent within African art, Adjaye establishes the connection Africa has to the African American experience. He ties the connection of the Diaspora and Africa with the bronze panels around the museum, channeling the African American ironwork in the American south. The architecture symbolically references the relationship between African American history and its African cultural origins.
Adjaye’s attention to detail and awareness of African origins within African American history and culture further establish the generational ties we share as Black people across the globe. It’s pertinent for Africans to understand the historical progress of a Diaspora who had to create its own identity, culture, and freedom within the United States. Unfortunately, on both spectrums there is an unfamiliarity created by the White hegemonic culture of our world. The foundation of white supremacy has influenced a perception of Africa and its people, as well as of African Americans, leaving both sides standing at odds. Cross-cultural understanding is necessary because in totality, blackness is complex, various, differing, historically influenced, organic, and generational. In conjunction, what we find as representations of us, through these white lenses, cop out our beauty and complexity, it diminishes our essence, our strength, our beauty, and in result, narrow perceptions reside, of who we are and who others are. For many, there is a separation in being black and African; the opening of this museum provides context to the connection and inflections of African culture that pervades the history of African Americans, while also highlighting the unique and singularly black experience in America. This museum’s significance is its creation itself, in a capital within a country historically based on the life, liberty, and happiness of a white society. With that in mind, the black experience within America holds a different perspective, insight, and historical background than other Diaspora experiences, however, with its unique and differing qualities, it illuminates the various faces of blackness globally.
This museum’s opening is significant in that it highlights the importance of black people within a society that has a history of diminishing, belittling, killing, destroying, and dehumanizing a race of people who still find it within themselves to create, empower, influence, enlighten, inspire, and reflect their world. The narrative of being black in America correlates with characteristics of being black around the world and that, in itself, represents the importance of this museum. So let’s revel in the opening of this monument, revealing overwhelming stories of triumph, creativity, innovation, and even heartbreak, while understanding our own blackness, our own cultures within our respective spaces. African, African-American, Afro-Latino, etc.: let this moment inspire us to celebrate our eccentricities and commonalities.