Co-Constructing Racial Identities at Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum
Erickson, Olivia Littles
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In the United States museums have played a key role in shaping our understandings of ourselves as members of particular geographical, national, and racialized groups. While many museums in the United States present this information from a Euro-American perspective (a reflection of both their leadership and their presumed audiences), the growth of minority-run museums and cultural institutions challenges these hegemonic understandings of race and identity by presenting alternative narratives of identity and belonging. Taking the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) as a case study, this work will examine the role an African American museum plays in reflecting and shaping identities and local understandings about race. Within NAAM, ideas about what it means to be African American are continually co-constructed through the dynamic relationship that exists between the museum and the public. Through these interactions, various (and sometimes contesting) discourses of “blackness” are reshaped and reinterpreted within the space of the museum. However, the discursive power of the museum derives not just from its content and programs, but also from its physical location in a neighborhood experiencing rapid demographic changes, and from its visitors whose racial identities impact the extent to which they are able to make personal connections with the museum’s content.
- Anthropology