There is always something that stirs inside me when I pick up James Baldwin. I find it hard not only to be inspired by him veracious vocabulary and the fiery passion he puts into every sentence. Going into the class room I had anticipated a wide array of discussion topic since The Fire Next Time covers a vast array of challenging topics. I first read the book in an undergrad course discussing Civil Rights authors and found myself drawn to Baldwin right away. His struggle with religion is an aspect I could relate to growing up.
What happened during class deepen my appreciation for the writer as we dove in head first into the book. One of my classmates stated the historian David Blight thought anyone who has not read Baldwin should have their citizenship revoked. Another stated the book did not hold back any punches on the pitfalls of society. Many ideas were similar in this fact and discussion moved towards the African-American museum movement. This reading shocked me. During this entire first year of graduate school, all the modern theories, public interactions, and community building stressed in every class was invented fifty years ago with the start of the African-American movement. Yet they were not praised, they were not credited, and largely ignored by the museum world as these methods went against the grain. I was surprised oh how these wonderful ideas on how museum should be was used are still not used in museums today and even graduate studies.
The activity for these readings was to pick a quote from each and write it on a paper. After pasting each on the walls, everyone was given two different colored sticky notes. One represented a challenging thought while the other was something you could relate to emotionally. Once everyone had posted their notes on the quotes, it was clear which quotes struck home to the class. Both the challenge and relatable sticky notes clustered on two each respectfully. The two challenging were on quotes from Baldwin discussing white society and the problems it faces. The two emotional focused on religion and death. An uneasy feeling grew out of the silence after each quote was read only to be broken by the sound of clapping hands
As the instructed challenged us to think beyond thinking museums as part of the community but as centers of tearing down assumptions. The current culture of the United States is largely based on assumption. If you want to see this, just look at the current presidential debates. I see these cultural assumptions being stretch and twisted in order to get a rise out of the audience. The modern museum must be a part of the community but an also challenge the foundation assumptions that hurt the growth of society.
At the end of the class, I left with a new appreciation for Baldwin. The class gave me new perspectives to look at museums but also society as a whole.