Michelle Obama: Museums Are “White Spaces”

Michelle Obama Whitney

Outside of the people who attended the opening of the New Whitney Museum in New York on April 30, not many heard the words, but they are spreading.  Once again, First “Lady” of the United States, Michelle Obama, showed her true colors and no class with this statement excised from her remarks:

“You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood. In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.

“And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this. And today, as first lady, I know how that feeling limits the horizons of far too many of our young people.

Bizpac Review put it this way: “Museums and concert halls,” she said, just don’t welcome non-white visitors – especially children – the way they welcome whites.”

For non museum junkies, the New Whitney in New York is somewhat of an answer to Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas.  (Been to Crystal Bridges.  Definitely worth the trip.)  Both are museums of strictly American art, although Crystal Bridges is more comprehensive as opposed to modern.  As a person who seeks out art museums and galleries in any place she is, Mrs. Obama’s statement is ludicrous and racially inflammatory.

Michelle Obama grew up, yes, on the south side of Chicago, home to some of the most awesome museums in the country.  The Art Institute and the Field are two of the top museums in their respective areas world wide.  The dinosaurs at the Field and the Impressionists at the Art Institute beckon regularly.  (Maybe that’s just me.)  Her class never took a field trip?  And why would such a place not feel welcoming?  Museums are loaded with (hopefully) unadulterated information.  This is race neutral.

Why would anyone consider it a “white space” other than those are the majority of the people who choose to go there.  That does not mean that people of color do not frequent museums regularly.  It does not mean that the information and artifacts presented are strictly about whites.  One of the best museums in the United States is the Rock and Soul in Memphis, Tennessee, which is quite diverse, and features southern music from all genres.  The Saint Louis Art Museum in this writer’s hometown has in the permanent collection beautiful Native American, African, South American, Chinese, African American art and various other pieces that reflect the diversity of art itself.  This writer once stood on a stage with 250 other singers, half of whom were African-American, to perform a Michael Tippet masterpiece that featured multiple black spirituals.  Several of the best classical singers this writer knows are black, and many of the instrumentalists are Asaian.

Why would western artistic American culture be called “white space” unless someone seeks to drive a wedge between it and a certain group of people?

If there was any doubt that Michelle Obama is more about race than she is being a lady, comments such as those she made last week should leave little doubt.

Writer’s note: as it happens, here in St. Louis, we have six world class cultural institutions.  Five of the six are part of something called the Zoo Museum District, which is a minimal tax ($50-$125) per household annually that has the goal of keeping the five either free, or very accessible with minimal admissions (only one has a minimal entrance fee, and then there are two free mornings for city and county residents).  This is so that all people can come and be a part of culture, and blacks regularly do take advantage.  The Symphony is not part of the ZMD, but does have an extremely active outreach with black schools, including kinderconcerts.  This will not work everywhere, but it works for us.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.