“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

– Zora Neale Hurston

I think we all face some type of discrimination at points in our lives. Maybe it’s because of our race, gender, sexuality, or even our weight. I also know that it makes me angry when it has happened to me. Even when someone does it as a “joke,” it doesn’t feel like a joke, but I admit, sometimes I laugh along with them to keep from being devastated. Also, I sometimes make the jokes myself, to beat them to what I know will come eventually. Often, we are so divided about our differences that we forget to see that we are all human. We have much more in common than we have differences. When someone points out our differences in a derogatory or even playful way, it can sometimes be very hurtful. Sometimes though, separation is warranted.

Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, blocked two proposals on Thursday to create Smithsonian museums for Latino and women’s history from unanimously passing the Senate, saying there’s been too much “balkanization” in the country. Claiming “the last thing we need is to divide an already divided nation further,” Lee blocked proposals to establish the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. Supporters of the bipartisan bills to add these museums to the existing Smithsonian Institution collection had hoped to get approval on a voice vote, but as allowed under Senate rules, Lee blocked the bills. The bill could still pass, but it is unlikely to be accomplished by the end of the year.

I have to admit, I am torn over the issue of having Smithsonian museums for American-Indians, African-Americans, Latinos, and women (I’m sure there will eventually be one for LGBTQ+ as well). Let me explain my reason for being torn, and it has to do with what was presented to me by a Smithsonian curator (I work for a Smithsonian Affiliate). The Museum of American History was established to tell the story of the United States, not just white male elites. Their mission statement reads, “Empowering people to create a just and compassionate future by exploring, preserving, and sharing the complexity of our past.” It was created for everybody and to tell the complex and unique story of the United States of America. However, if new museums are always split from the Museum of American History, what story is left for the main museum? The most important artifacts will go to the various museums. I believe they should have expanded the Museum of American History to include areas devoted to each group instead of separating them and creating museums spread across the nation’s capital.

I will admit that the only Smithsonian I have been to is the Museum of the American Indian and the National Portrait Gallery. They were the only museums we had the time to visit when I was there. (I was only there for the morning as we flew in early and had an afternoon appointment to pick up some artifacts in Arlington.) I’d love to see all of the Smithsonian museums. I can speak only of my opinion, but I think the Museum of the American Indian, whose mission statement says, “In partnership with Native peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Native peoples” does a poor job of representing all Native Americans. The five major tribes of the South (aka the Five Civilized Tribes, what an awful connotation that has) are hardly represented. It was impossible to find my Native American heritage (two of my great grandmothers were Native American: one was Creek; the other Cherokee) represented anywhere in the museum. No matter what the Smithsonian does, they will never be able to capture the whole story in the nearly two dozen Smithsonian museums, galleries, and gardens (also one zoo).

With the Smithsonian’s mission statement being, “The increase and diffusion of knowledge.” They have a lot to cover. So the dilemma remains, do they try to put everything in one museum, or do they establish numerous museums as they have to try and cover as much as possible? I think, for the most part, they are doing the best they can. What I disagree with Senator Lee with the most is his statement that the museums dedicated to the history of Native Americans and African Americans were separately built because those groups were “uniquely, deliberately, and systemically excluded” from history. I believe this is true of women and Latinos, as well. Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who has been advocating for the National Museum of the American Latino for years, argued: “We have been systematically excluded.” Menendez said passionately on the Senate floor, “Believe me, we have been. And the only righteous way to end that exclusion is to pass this bill.”

The fact of the matter is that the Smithsonian is raiding its own museums, especially the Museum of American History, to create these other more inclusive museums. Also, consider which museum tells the story of African-American, Native American, or Latina women? Does that mean that the American Women’s History Museum will only cover white women? There isn’t an easy answer, but I think that the Smithsonian is doing the best they can to preserve the history of the and art of the United States. The curators at the Smithsonian have a difficult job when deciding what will stay at the Museum of American History and which will go to one of the other museums. I think the Smithsonian will get the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum appropriations. I also hope that they will move to create a Smithsonian museum for LGBTQ+ history and culture. 

One of the most significant problems with what Lee did was that he was the ONLY senator to vote against the proposal. I honestly don’t think it should be possible for one single solitary Senator to block a proposal from being approved. The United States needs to look at the archaic rules of government that have been created with so many loopholes that nothing can get done. We need action in Washington, we need strict ethics laws, and we need a way to force politicians to work together for the common good of all Americans.

This post was initially supposed to just be about the Zora Neale Hurston quote, and I was going to make a joke about “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?” However, things like this evolve into different posts at times. Here is the point I am trying to make in this whole post: we are all Americans, but until everyone realizes that and accepts that, we will always be labeled in some way or another. In the end, we are all human beings, even if some people, especially hate groups, don’t act like they are human. A prime example is the Proud Boys the other day lifting their kilts and showing their bare asses like a bunch of apes. The next thing they will want to do is throw poo at people. However, they, too, even if we don’t want them to be, are humans also.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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