THE NEW NORMAL?
I don’t know whether the Deplorables noticed, but a few weeks ago, Washington, DC, (and the world) saw an unprecedented celebration of African-American culture and arts.
In the week of September 18, the National Humanities and the Arts medals went to a group of people that included musician Audra MacDonald, author James McBride, Motown producer Berry Gordy, author Isabelle Wilkerson, and musician Wynton Marsalis.
That week also saw the opening of the National Museum of African-American Culture and History, the fulfillment of Lonny Bunche’s vision and repudiation of all those who, in the political environment of our time, have felt no compunction in letting their racist thoughts slide out of their mouths.
President Obama was presided over the handing out of the NHA medals and the opening of the museum; unfortunately he was not also at Washington’s National Book Festival the same day, because that’s where I was and it would have been the fulfillment of a dream to meet him.
However, James McBride (Kill ‘Em and Leave”) was there and so were Colson Whitehead (“The Underground Railroad”), Jacqueline Woodson (“Another Brooklyn”), Jerry Pinkney, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Robinsonn (daughter of Jackie Robinson), Kaitlyn Greenidge (“We Love You, Charlie Freeman”), Tonya Bolden, Edwidge Danticat, Margo Jefferson (“Negroland”), Jabar Asim, Shonda Rhimes, Angela J. Davis, Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Annette Gordon Reed, and Congressman John Lewis, who had been at the museum opening earlier in the day.
The Library of Congress sponsors the National Book Festival each year, and it was another celebration to welcome Carla Hayden as the new Librarian of Congress. The representation of black and brown authors was overwhelming, and the lines of people of all hues waiting to see them were also affirming. This is not to deny the achievements of white authors and white winners of the NHA medals (such as Mel Brooks, Ron Chernow, and Terry Gross), but to say that where once one might have expected the majority of people honored or present at a book festival to be white, now there is just a natural expectation that many of them will be African-American.
And while it is no doubt a triumph for the greater African-American community to be represented in this way, it is also a wonderful opportunity for all white Americans to learn, to engage, and to appreciate the achievements of all citizens.
The week also saw the acclaimed release of the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly about the African-American women mathematicians without whom the space program would, literally, not have gotten off the ground. I have great hopes that Ms. Shetterly will be featured at next year’s book festival.
This is not to deny the achievements of white authors and white winners of the NHA medals. I was extremely excited to hear Sarah Vowell in person and to know that Mel Brooks, Ron Chernow, and Terry Gross, among others, were receiving medals.
It is to say that where once one might have expected the majority of people honored or present at a book festival to be white, now there is just a natural expectation that many of them will be African-American and other –Americans.
Let this be the new normal!
As I write this on October 10, a day called Columbus Day, let me just add that to see a celebration of Native American culture and arts would be very welcome to the making of the new normal. Our legislators might want to consider making October or November First People’s History Month; both months perpetuate myths about Native Americans that are so hurtful to those among us today.