I find no better description for the actions of Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, who last week singlehandedly blocked decades long efforts to authorize legislation that would have paved the way for museums dedicated to women and Latinos as part of the Smithsonian Institution with both at the goal line.
How was one senator able to wield the extraordinary power to sideline this effort which possessed unanimous-save-one bipartisan support? You can read about those legislative logistics here.
As odious as Lee’s opposition to the museums was, his use of Civil Rights rhetoric in defending his position was galling, even by 2020 standards of corroded Republican political reasoning.
“The last thing we need,” Lee said, “is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups.”
One might argue the last thing we need is an effort on behalf of conservative states and legislators to overthrow a free and fair presidential election, but I’m getting off track.
Regarding the white, male’s outrageous reference to “separate, but equal,” when the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it overturned the notion of “separate, but equal,” which had been the law of the land, stating that separate public schools, by their very nature, were “inherently unequal.”
This same standard would apply to all public facilities.
“Separate,” in the hands of Jim Crow, was a device used to disadvantage, divide and exclude.
“Separate,” in the hands of Smithsonian Institution for the purposes of creating museums dedicated to highlighting the essential contributions of women and Latinos on the American story, is an effort to incorporate and include. It’s an effort to raise up, to even an historical record that for longer than any living person’s memory it has actively worked to suppress.
This isn’t the recent opinion of “the radical Left.”
A 1994 study commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution found a “pattern of willful neglect” toward Latinos, further noting, it “almost entirely excludes and ignores Latinos in nearly every aspect of its operations.” This, despite, as it said, Latinos having, “contributed significantly to every phase of American history and culture.”
This museum, and the one for women, is a historical correction.
Lee, clearly, doesn’t want America’s patriarchal, white supremacist history corrected. He likes that just fine.
Lee, unconvincingly, said he supports greater representation of women and Latinos in the existing Smithsonian museums, but that building new museums would harm “national unity.”
Here, Lee shows his ignorance of what the Smithsonian Institute is. The Smithsonian Institute is the largest museum and research complex in the world. The Smithsonian Institute is not one museum as Lee imagines it – surprising for someone who lives in Washington, D.C. where most of the facilities are located. One wonders if Lee has ever been?
America’s story is too large for one museum. The Smithsonian Institute is 19 museums and a zoo.
Adding additional museums devoted to highlighting women and Latinos is simply an expansion of the already expansive scope of the Smithsonian Institute. This effort is not about separating women and Latinos, it is about making them equal.
Within the Smithsonian Institute, the only way to be equal is to be separate. Separate from the National Air and Space Museum. Separate from the National Postal Museum. Separate from the National Museum of Natural History and all the rest.
Think of the Smithsonian like a grocery store with “separate” sections for produce, frozen foods, meat and fish, a bakery, dairy, pharmaceuticals. As presently constituted, the Smithsonian “grocery store” doesn’t offer the depth and breath of items related to women and Latinos it needs to in order to properly serve its community, America.
The Smithsonian has a precedent of expanding in this fashion with “items” – museums – in its “grocery store” already devoted to African-Americans and Native Americans.
Hell, within the Smithsonian Institute there are art museums separately dedicated to American art, portraiture, sculpture, Asian art, African art, and craft and decorative objects. Doing so has hardly eroded “national unity.”
Separating these collections allows for a more thorough telling.
The Smithsonian is “separate as equal.”
In one area, I will agree with Lee. He says diversity has been “weaponized.”
Diversity has been weaponized. It’s been weaponized against the nation’s historic founding on both patriarchy and white supremacy, two values Lee clearly cherishes.
As far as “hyphenated identity groups,” this is the sort of old-school, nationalist, Reagan Republican, race mongering, Donald Trump’s ascent to power has made fashionable again.
Where is the hyphen in “woman.”
The museums’ official titles would be The Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and The National Museum of the American Latino. Both museums explicitly advancing “American” before “woman” or “Latino.”
No hyphens, as if hyphens are somehow inherently seditious.
I believe our differences as citizens of this country are as responsible, perhaps more so, for whatever greatness the nation has achieved as our similarities. Lee believes only our similarities are worth celebrating, similarities primarily shared by white people.
Terrorists utilize unconventional methods in exerting outsized influence toward the promotion of their warped world view, features of which almost always include righteousness and a misinterpretation of history.
Sound like anyone you know?