Smithsonian Displays 'Feel Good' History of Africa while Trashing America

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

Washington ( - The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is currently displaying an exhibit on Africa that excludes the negative history of the continent at the same time the American History Museum located next door is allegedly stressing America's failures.

The Smithsonian is already under fire for declaring in still another of its museum exhibits that slavery was not "dehumanizing" until white Europeans took up the practice.

"African Voices," on display at the Museum of Natural History, invites tourists to "Come listen to the many voices of Africa," including scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, spiritual leaders, health workers and fashion designers. The exhibit speaks of the African nations' "rich histories and cultures."

One exhibit panel explains: "Africans and their descendents everywhere have created thriving cultures and sustained themselves in their relations with Africa."

A cultural critic chastised the federally run Smithsonian for presenting American history in a distinctly negative light while presenting a glowing version of African history.

"Next door [to the African history exhibit] at the National Museum of American History, visitors encounter an America characterized by rigid class barriers, ever-growing economic inequality, predatory capitalists and oppressed minorities," Heather Mac Donald of New Criterion magazine said.

The author of a book critical of Africa's failures also criticized the Smithsonian for its presentation of African history.

"It's obviously not striving to be historically complete or accurate if they are not mentioning civil strife or genocide," said Keith Richburg, author of Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa.

Historical critics say the exhibits are missing many realities of Africa like famine, tribal strife, war and black-on-black slavery. The African Voices exhibit refers to how "colonialism denied Africans basic rights and control over their own destiny" and how the many nations of Africa "struggled for independence" from European colonial rule, but there is no mention of modern-day civil strife in post-colonial Africa.

One visitor to the museum said he was amazed at how the Smithsonian has portrayed Africa as such a scientifically and culturally advanced continent.

"After walking through the African Voices exhibit, I thought to myself: 'Why isn't Africa giving the U.S. foreign aid instead of the other way around?" said the visitor who declined to give his name.

Mac Donald writes in the New Criterion, a cultural journal, that the "African Voices" exhibit contrasts sharply with the Smithsonian's version of American history.

Mac Donald called the African display "impeccably post-modern" for deleting references to genocide, modern-day slavery, war and famine.

One of the curators of the African Voices exhibit was quoted in New Criterion as saying the exhibit was designed to enhance the image of Africa.

"We have to make sure to let people know there are as many Africans in science labs as are working in the fields," Mary Jo Arnold said.

But Mac Donald believes the "self-esteem imperative" is replacing historical accuracy.

"Given the backward state of Africa's still largely rural economy, it seems highly unlikely that Africa is producing as many scientists as subsistence farmers," Mac Donald wrote in an article titled "Revisionist Lust: The Smithsonian Today."

"Oddly, when identity groups seek to legitimize themselves, they draw on traditional Western criteria of accomplishment, such as science, despite the cultural left's disdain for such alienating forms of thought," she added.

The America characterized by the Smithsonian as one of "social and economic inequality" is also historically inaccurate, according to Mac Donald.

"Compared to what? Judged by contemporary European standards, America was the least class-bound society in the world and would remain so for two centuries," Mac Donald wrote.

The American History museum "features nothing on the American Revolution or the Constitutional Conventions, nothing that embodies the ideals that animated the United States," Mac Donald wrote.

'Worst Form of Racism'

Richburg believes the omission of Africa's failures from the Smithsonian exhibit is a form of racism.

"They're holding Africa to a different standard - let's not talk about this because it's politically incorrect," Richburg said.

"The worst form of racism, and I say this as a black person, is to hold black people and black leaders to a different standard," he added.

Richburg, an African-American, spent three years living in Africa as a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post and concluded that the continent was not a source of his racial pride.

"Talk to me about Africa and my black roots and my kinship with my African brothers, and I'll throw it back in your face, and then I'll rub your nose into the images of the rotting flesh," wrote Richburg in his book.

Richburg, who has not seen the Smithsonian exhibit on Africa, was not surprised to hear that negative elements of Africa's history were missing.

"It's not surprising that they want to put together an exhibit that would be politically correct ... Whether it is a historically complete image is another question," Richburg told

"It's obviously not striving to be historically complete or accurate if they are not mentioning civil strife or genocide," Richburg added. Instead, African Voices stands as "a feel good exhibit," he said.

"At least have some mention of fact that the continent is still torn by a lot of wars and civil strife and tribal conflicts and it's a pretty poor place and they have a lot of problems," Richburg explained.

Richburg used the example of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, as an example of how Africa is given a pass when it comes to accountability. Mugabe is alleged by many to be orchestrating a politically motivated famine by using his military to forcibly confiscate white-owned farms and redistribute them to black residents as a means of redressing the nation's colonial past.

"When I was a college student, Mugabe was considered a bit of a hero, a sort of scholar rebel who took over from white-ruled Rhodesia. Now, look at him. He has become a thug. He is an embarrassment," Richburg said.

Asked about Mugabe's rousing welcome by the Earth Summit attendees last year in South Africa, Richburg was blunt.

"That just shows you the pathetic intellectual bankruptcy of a lot of people who deal with Africa and a lot of people on the left who like to make heroes out of people just because they are anti-American or because they see them picked on by the West," Richburg said.

"People don't like to know the truth, but sometimes, the truth has to be told," Richburg said. It is racist, he contended, if people "don't look at the warts and all."

"Don't hold black Africa to a lesser standard than you would hold any other place when it comes to democracy and human rights because it's the people who are suffering. You are not doing them any service," he added.


Richburg believes university programs focused on African studies also share the blame.

"I did a lot of African studies in school, and in graduate school...I was one of those who blamed everything on colonialism. And boy, now that Africa was independent, or so I thought, they were starting to work on solving some of these problems," Richburg explained.

"You could also call it 'Afro-Stupidity.' People want to put on blinders and say because Mugabe is black, he is some kind of a hero," Richburg added.

'Poisonous Trends'

Mac Donald also traces what she sees as the Smithsonian's historical inaccuracies to America's academic culture.

The Smithsonian Institution "has been transformed by a wholesale embrace of the worst elements of America's academic culture" and is "conducting a fierce revisionist campaign," according to Mac Donald.

She believes the Smithsonian is now under the influence of "the multicultural, mad victim celebrating universities."

"Short of a total housecleaning of staff, there is little that can save the Smithsonian from being further engulfed by the poisonous trends of identity politics and post-modern theory," Mac Donald added.

The Smithsonian museums receive approximately two-thirds of their funding from the federal government and the rest from corporate and private donations.

As previously reported by, the Smithsonian drew criticism for claiming at its African-American history museum in Washington that while instances of slavery could be found throughout human history, the practice of slavery did not become "dehumanizing" until white Europeans came along and took slaves to the Americas.

The U.S. National Park Service was also recently scolded for presenting a video at the Lincoln Memorial that many visitors believe implies Abraham Lincoln would have supported abortion and homosexual "rights," as well as the modern feminist agenda. However, the Park Service is seeking to modify the content of the video, following several reports by

See Related Articles:
Smithsonian Museum Blasted for Stressing America's Failures (Feb. 19, 2003)
Federal Museum Denies Slavery in Africa Was 'Dehumanizing' (March 6, 2003)
Video Implies Lincoln Would Have Supported Liberal Causes (Feb. 4, 2003)

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