#BNPVisits: National Museum Of African American History & Culture

The National Museum of African American History & Culture opened on Saturday September 24th.


So, of course, a BNP contingent visited on Sunday. NMAAHC has been pretty active on twitter with their standard account @NMAAHC and with their more interactive @AskNMAAHC and we followed in their footsteps documenting all the glory that was the museum (with a bit of shade because we can only be us.)

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Nicole: What did we learn? If you want to see all of the best t-shirts worn by all the good-looking black people, go to this museum. Seriously, it was a parade of “Oh! I need that” the entire day. Yes, day. This is not a small museum or a quick trip. Beyond the fact that there are four full (and I mean full) floors, this is not the kind of information that you can run through.

There were times, like when I read about integrating the army and thought about my grandfather who would have loved to have had a museum like this to visit, when I had to sit down. When we saw the remains of a slave ship – and the child-sized shackles – I had to stop. There were so many other times when I was reminded that not only does the building contain a massive amount of information, but it is a history to be considered reverently and so rushing through isn’t even an option.

Also, go in chronological order. Ain’t nobody trying to end up at slavery.

And you need those upper levels to get yourself right before you head back out into the world. Yes, I said upper levels. The museum is one big metaphor: slavery is in the basement and as we ascend we… ascend. The most recent history, our latests joys and achievements, are on the top floor. They had Prince’s tambourine, and interactive production studio, and Ella Fitzgerald’s dress – which had me out here comtemplating wearing makeup for the first time in years.

Ella Fitzgerald’s dress has me out here on #DefConLevelHighFemme #BNPVisits @NMAAHC A photo posted by Nicole Homer (@realnicolehomer) on

I think that we owe it to ourselves and to our culture and history to be unblinking when we look back on where we’ve been. One of the first things we saw as we headed into the slavery and freedom hall was this quote:

At the entrance of the “Slavery and Freedom” gallery #BNPVisits #AdventuresInNicoleing @NMAAHC A photo posted by Nicole Homer (@realnicolehomer) on

And they did.

Lauren: My advice? It’s okay to not absorb everything. Trust me. It doesn’t matter how familiar you think you are with the ins and outs of the Smithsonian museums, the sheer volume of information contained within the NMAAHC is enough to overwhelm anyone, never mind the additional emotional toll tales of trauma and some graphic imagery takes. Much like the constant barrage of police videos and articles highlighting Black death, however, it’s easy to guilt yourself into feeling that mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion are synonymous with how much you care. If anything, what I found most valuable was being able to focus on a small portion at a time, such as one historical figure or narrative, as opposed to an entire canon or saga.

Also, much like the Blackest TARDIS in existence, the museum is actually way larger than it appears from the outside. One of the best parts of having Nicole and Brittany with me was that I had someone to reinforce that it was okay to take physical breaks, or to avoid certain areas altogether (the museum trigger warnings are unfortunately often hard to spot until its too late). There are groups of benches located on every level; put them bad boys to good use.

Brittany: I’ve been hype about this museum for years as both a museum and Smithsonian fanatic. National Air and Space Museum has just been bumped from my top three (sorry bout it Amelia Earhart’s plane, they’ve got Parliament Funkadelic’s Spaceship).

Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way. So if you plan to go any time soon, be prepared for loooooooooong lines and everything that goes with that.

(The devil is a LIAR)

Now the wait and the struggle are both worth every side-eyeing, hate-tweeting moment because the collection amassed here is unparalleled. When traversed as intended, a journey through NMAAHC shatters your heart…

Reminds you of our strength and our will to fight, survive, and thrive in this country not made for us…

And proves that Black people have always, now and forever, slayed the game.

Like Nicole said, it’s a long journey, and like Lauren said, it’s not for the faint of heart. We passed up on seeing Emmitt Till’s casket due as much to physical fatigue as emotional. There was some levity to be had in our exhaustion; one because there’s comfort in numbers and two because where one or more of BNP is gathered, so shall pop off these jokes.

But this museum, in all its glory, does not pull its punches. Just as it showcases our struggles and our triumphs, NMAAHC shows our beauty and our ugliness.

And I think offering us the whole truth of who we were forced to become when we were stolen away to this country is the greatest gift of this museum.

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