The men who joined Washington’s army were young and mostly poor farmers, fishermen, and artisans; some were Africans.
Now I am not an expert in American history and the National Museum of American History in Washington DC is, no doubt, full of experts in history. I do, however, have a couple of points to make about this small sentence on their wall in their American War of Indepence section.
a. Why is the word Africans put after a semi-colon as if it were:
- an afterthought
- a profession.
b. The sentence is written as if Africans were just hanging around in America waiting to help Washington free the colony from the draconian yoke of their British overlords. From what little I remember I think all those first and second generation Africans were, at the time, mostly there not of their own free will.
c. Africans fought on both sides of the War of Independence because both sides promised freedom from actual slavery if the above mentioned Africans did so.
I am sure I am being both ignorant and churlish that The National Museum of American History should make reference to it’s sordid past at every turn of it’s very well designed corridors. It is a place where a recreation of the Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-in is but meters away from Kermit the Frog trapped in a perspex box. Inbetween the two the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. In another room the original Old Glory, the fine flag in a low lit room, the national anthem playing softly in hushed religious tones as you walk up to pay respect to a very beautiful idea of freedom; hard won. An idea of freedom that even now has difficulty manifesting itself in every day life.
Why should they mention slavery at every turn when Britain never mentions it’s involvement in slavery? For the British the common story is that we stopped slavery. How little we wish to remember, how we enjoy our ignorance throwing glances of superiority at our old colonies. We like to forget that the Americans were British before they were American. We like to forget that we helped finesse and perfect the insidious triangle between Africa, America and our own island before we found it to be economically inefficient. We like to forget that we took tea from one ancient Empire in exchange for opium and used another great Empire as a garden in which to cultivate that tea. How civilised is that little bag of dried leaf. How civilised are we.
The National Museum of American History is a building of mythmaking and all nations are guilty of that. No one likes to look into their dark rotten heart. Let the kitchz rub up against the profound. Let the hard won battles of the oppressed be preserved in amber; made anodyne and safe – nuetered and free of all context. It seems like the meat and the marrow has been sucked and licked of the bones of the past and all we are left with are clean plastic moments. Let the bravery of those young men and women who risked their lives drinking a milkshake at a bar sit as equals with Kermit the frog and his struggles. We all like Kermit the frog. What could be so wrong with that? These things are in the past, these issues have been solved. Move along please. Bow to the flag, respect the frog. Gape at the slippers. Wonder at the unusual syntax. It’s not easy being green.
I am sure that I am being both ignorant and churlish.