My Video Journalism class’s field trip last week to the Allentown Art Museum was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced (and that’s saying something, considering I go to a school that has something called “Sack Day” in which people dance covered in sacks in public places). We visited the museum to see the poignant and beautiful Our America exhibit, a collection organized by the Smithsonian, showcasing and celebrating the Latino presence in American art. Highly recommend the exhibit because it was amazing. But do yourself a favor and take a self-guided tour...
Our tour began with our guide shuffling through notes she most definitely copied down from a Wikipedia page about immigration, and she launched into a journey that none of us were prepared for. It was wild.
Here’s just a mere glance at some of the things that actually came out of the mouth of this person during our tour of the exhibit. *Note: Because we didn't pull out a camera and record these things, these are paraphrases of things our guide said and not direct quotes, but these are pretty accurate as far as I and the rest of my classmates recalled.*
- She described art as “a luxury for these people”.
- She told us she traveled to a country in Central America, and the “indigenous people would get off of the sidewalk when someone like me would walk by” and that “some people like that”.
- After a student in my class corrected her about the proper use of Latino/Hispanic, she continued to refer to artists of any descent as Hispanic although she was just told that this is incorrect, and almost every time she brought up race she followed it with, “but I’m not really good with all this politically-correct stuff”.
- She said she “prefers to be with people of [her] own kind”.
- When my professor tried to explain to her that the things she was saying were damaging prejudices, she said something along the lines of “Yeah, I know I have these prejudices, but I’m okay with it… Everyone does, right? I mean, once I went to Florida and it was a torrential downpour and we needed help with our car, and you know who came over and helped us? An African American and a Hispanic, but nobody of my own kind. But then, well, you have other experiences…”
- She called this incredible collection of art in the exhibit a “hodge-podge” of different pieces.
- She showed a portrait to my professor and said that the man in the photograph was a laborer. When my professor challenged her and said, “How do you know he’s a laborer? Why can’t he be a doctor?”, she said, “Well, it’s New York and just look at him.”
....... LIKE WHAT THE HECK RIGHT? This isn't even all of it.
Our class exchanged bewildered glances and cringed the whole way through. It was so uncomfortable. She minimized the struggle and beauty of a culture and ironically perpetuated the exact biases that this art is trying to challenge.
We left perplexed and angry. How could someone possibly be so ignorant? Our class of educated (and liberally-minded) students recognized the hate in the words of our tour guide, but the sad thing is that people will come to this museum and actually believe and agree with the things this lady is saying. She's in a position with so much agency because she has the power to educate, and in this case, that is so dangerous. It’s these types of ideas that make me worry for the future of our country. The hate-filled opinions and unchecked biases this lady displayed were not just some weird fluke experience, but things that people hear around the world on a daily basis. These are the ideas that are pervading America and inspiring bigotry everywhere, and it’s just not right. It’s not okay to make innocent people feel so unwanted merely for the color of their skin or the country from which they came. It’s just not.
In the beginning of this article, I said that this experience of witnessing blatant racism was so strange to me, but the sad part is that it’s not so strange at all, and so many people experience this ignorance in a far more personal and degrading way each and every day. It’s real. We cannot sit idly by and must take action to educate ourselves and others about issues of race and acknowledge racism and call out bigotry when it occurs. We have to learn from it and do something about it.