ArtPolitics

major french institution teaches kids that some u.s. slaves had “pleasant lives” and that racial discrimination ended in 1964

October 4, 2016

Musée du Quai Branly’s booklet for kids starts with several questionable paragraphs stating that some slaves had “pleasant lives” and that the Civil Rights Act from 1964 marked “the end of racial discrimination”… Many say this is revisionist “History” at its best.

Major Parisian institution Musée du Quai Branly just launched ‘The Color Line’, a very ambitious exhibition about the History of African-Americans. While parts of the project may seem too “soft” and unthreatening, the effort put into curating the exhibit is evident. Some well noted African-American artists are included, such as Archibald John Motley, Junior and younger artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Mickalene Thomas and Ellen Gallagher. The exhibit also includes numerous archival pictures and documents, covering slavery, segregation, parts of the Civil Rights movement, and more.

However, the most questionable part of the project came in the form of a pedagogic booklet for kids, distributed for free at the event. From the start, statements about the “pleasant lives” of some slaves make it hard not to be shocked by the text. The introduction of the booklet also states that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked “the end of racial discrimination” in the United States (!), de facto ignoring the ongoing History of institutional racism that plagues the country to this day.

The text also brings up the age old statement that most slaves were “sold by Africans to Europeans”. We now know that such a statement is anachronistic and oversimplifies History: at the time, people didn’t define themselves as “Africans” or, as many like to say, “Black people selling other Black people”. Such European social constructs weren’t in place in Africa at the time and those who sold others to Europeans were not “selling their Black brothers and sisters”.

It is important to note that all these questionable statements are often used by people who try to deflect the responsibility of Europeans in the slave trade and minimize the horror of slavery, segregation and institutional racism. Many guests who attended the opening of the exhibition feel that it is irresponsible to teach such revisionist “History” to children, even more so in the context of a project that claims to bring light to the issues African-Americans have faced in the United States.

We have reached out to Musée du Quai Branly for comment.

– Lou Constant-Desportes, AFROPUNK Editor-in-Chief

UPDATE – The head of communications at Musée du Quai Branly sent us a reply, stating that the mistakes were due to negligence related to short deadlines, and that the booklets have been removed and will be replaced with a more accurate version.

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