Yesterday I spent nearly the whole day here, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I have never wanted to visit a place as much as I did this Museums. I know why. It is a testament to pain as much as the triumph of the human spirit. It does not shy from telling about the suffering as it is about the beauty of black life. How can a person, after visiting such a place, doubt how evil slavery was, how devastating it has been to a people, how the greatness of America was built on African and black bodies, labour, trauma, sweat?
I have also never been to a Museum where there were so many people, from little school kids to old women and men. But it is such a place of memory. And for anyone who believes in justice and freedom, if there is one thing you and are able to, this museum is one place you have to visit before you die.
I didn’t cry, but I would forgive myself I did. I didn’t cry because of how the curating is executed so as to remind one about what it is worth to be human, that striving for justice and freedom and meaning and dignity is never done.
In my country we lied to ourselves that 1994 was freedom. This place says, most – most – people believe such lies at their own cost. In many African countries the consequences of similar lies are everywhere evident. And the cost has been incalculable: it has cost the majority of Africans their dignity, some their lives, to have been taken in with empty promises by one political messiah after another. It was a lie that political independence would restore what was lost, that human dignity would be the staple of the postcolony, that justice would forever be guaranteed.
The end of slavery was not the end of human exploitation. There would not be so many poor women and men in this land of the free if that was the case; so many women raped in the free world; so many children who don’t have food, a place to call home, free health, education in so many countries that are said to be free; black men and women’s bodies jailed and murdered at such high rates. Do not tell me the poor are lazy, women are asking to be grabbed by the crotch, black men are violent, because all of it is simply not true. If anything your chances of poverty, bad death and a lousy jail cell is inversely proportional to how much you steal. Steal at a big enough scale, steal like Goldman Sachs, and ABSA, or Deutsche Bank, steal countries, steal shiploads of people, own them, and write the laws, then a long life is almost guaranteed. Freedom and human dignity will always be threatened by those who seek control others.
Yesterday, even before I walked by the lone man protesting with his drum in that cold on Pennsylvania at Trump’s Hotel, I was reminded and fortified with the knowledge that freedom is such a fragile state, that dignity is never completely secured, and it is in how we live that we realize the meaning of being human. Freedom demands constant struggle and a daily practice of being free in mind, soul, body and relationships with others.