Museums and Their Presentation of Uncomfortable Truths

I have been really struck by the contrast between the Dr. Seuss Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture when it comes to the difficulty realities of the people they are highlighting.

When visiting the latter in July I was so impressed with their handling of Bill Crosby. They included him in several places, but didn’t shy away from anything about him.

 

Contrast this with the lack of commentary by the Seuss Museum on their creator’s racism which has been criticized by many since it opened earlier this year. Repeatedly they had argued that it wasn’t their responsibility to inform their visitors. Their response to Mike Curato, Lisa Yee, and  Mo Willems’s  public letter explaining their withdrawal from a festival at the museum because of racist imagery in a mural was initially no different. In their letter the three describe a ““jarring racial stereotype of a Chinese man who is depicted with chopsticks, a pointed hat and slanted slit eyes.” You can see it for yourself in the lower left of this photo of the mural I found in this article:

The museum’s initial response? From the Washington Post’s article:

In a letter sent to the authors, Kay Simpson, president of the Springfield Museums and Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, wrote that the museum “contains unedited material by Dr. Seuss during his lifetime” and that “we do not alter or edit an artist’s work.”

“Dr. Seuss’s books taught life lessons, from being a faithful friend, to not discriminating based upon appearances, to keeping your promises,” Simpson wrote. “Dr. Seuss was a product of his era and his attitudes evolved over time.

“It is our hope that parents and teachers can use the evolution of Dr. Seuss, including the mural of Mulberry Street in Springfield from Dr. Seuss’s first book published in 1937, as a teachable moment for children in their charge.”

The museum has finally in the eleventh hour said they will remove the mural, but clearly they are only doing it after enormous pressure and not because they think they have any responsibility to teach their visitors. This, I find, horribly wrong, wrong, wrong. Staying silent is, to my mind, a complete dereliction of duty. Not an option in this day and age. Kudos to the many institutions (such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture) for doing the work.

 

 

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