NYT critic derides Smithsonian's African-American history website





The museum’s founding director, Lonnie G. Bunch, seems to understand the nature of this daunting task.

He doesn’t want to wait until 2015 to begin it, and late last month the museum actually opened — not in the world of bricks and mortar but in the world of hyperlinks and tags. With $1 million in assistance from I.B.M., the Smithsonian Institution created what Mr. Bunch calls a “virtual platform,” a Web museum (nmaahc.si.edu)....

Unfortunately, though, these declared ambitions are jarring given the half-realized efforts on display. Even in the realm of hyperlinks, the mortar has a long way to go here before it congeals. Given the enormity of the interpretive project ahead, and its national importance, why was it prematurely undercut with something as thin and uninspiring as this site?

Consider the exhibition of portraits. If it were going to be unveiled on the Web, then why not do it in full? Many images are not available. All have brief, overly compressed biographical notes. And the essays from the show’s catalog are unavailable.

Even the selection of portraits seems unshaped by an interpretive idea. The exhibition’s title, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance,” is taken from a fervent message delivered to free Northern black Americans by a black clergyman, Henry Highland Garnet, in 1843. And while there are photos of some who variously resisted the debilitating forces arrayed against them — from W. E. B. Du Bois to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the idea of resistance is interpreted so broadly and blandly as to also encompass artists like Diana Ross and Wynton Marsalis. The idea may be that given historical circumstances any achievement can be interpreted as a kind of resistance; but distinctions, even among political positions, are left unexplored, at least on the Web.

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Vernon Clayson - 10/17/2007

There was great dignity in the earlier resistance movement but the current crop of African-Americans are mostly shrill and rude, demanding rather than seeking compromise in advancing the cause. None are heir to Du Bois or Martin Luther King, in their secret hearts they may even think of those two as Uncle Toms.
Al Sharpton as arbiter of good taste in the media, as spokesman for wrongs, real or imagined, against African Americans, need I say more?

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