Whitewashing and Otherizing in U.S History

As you read in my last post I traveled to New Orleans for the annual AAM conference. Fortunately, my husband and I were able to enjoy a couple days of exploring just before the conference started. During this time, we visited several museums. A couple of which we had visited the last time we had been in New Orleans (8 years prior). The Audubon Insectarium and World War II Museum were the two we had been to before. The Insectarium had made some amazing improvements and I think really nailed their immersive exhibits. However, with some of their exhibit spaces being incredibly dark or dim, it does call into question just how accessible they really are for low vision visitors. Now the World War II museum had expanded greatly since our last visit. Years ago the exhibits were not nearly as detailed and interactive as they are now. While I really enjoyed our visit to the WWII museum for the most part, I had some issues with one particular of interpretation.

Some quick background information that will help make sense of what I am about to explain. My husband and I spent about 3 years living in Okinawa, Japan as he is an Active Duty Marine. We loved it there. The people are incredible. While we lived there I took the time to visit their museums and see their history through their eyes.

Learning their perspective of WWII was eye opening. Not only were the Okinawan people victims of the Japanese forces during WWII, but their perception of the U.S. forces as invaders shown a light on the disparities of how history is told around the world.

This disparity became even clearer during our visit to the New Orleans World War II Museum. The first issue I had was the use of the word savage in this panel below. This kind of language wasn’t used in the information panels for the exhibits of the European battles. This is just another form of otherizing and dehumanizing non-white cultures.

The next panel I took issue with covered the U.S bombing of Japan as you can seen below. This panel is flippant and so clearly glosses over the killing of thousands of innocent people including children. Not to mention the long term damage it did to the people of that region. As if the refutation to surrender is enough justification to do so. I was so very disappointed by this panel.

This isn’t the first time I have seen such stark contrast in the retelling of history. A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam. While I was there I had a similar experience visiting historical landmarks and museums that contained the history of the Vietnam war. Unfortunately I don’t have examples to share in this post, it is an experience that has resonated with me. Hearing all different perspectives of history is imperative, not just the perspectives of the “victorious.”

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