This past break, I spent some time in New Orleans. We decided to take a walking tour to learn more about the history of the city. Our guide asked, “What does NOPD stand for?” Without hesitation, we replied, “New Orleans Police Department!”. He immediately said, “Nope… It stands for ‘Not our problem, dude’.” This obvious jab at the police department resonated with me, especially after reading about the racism revolving around Hurricane Katrina.
As I walked around different neighborhoods, I noticed that some looked completely unharmed or renovated, and some where still very run down. Neighborhoods with predominantly Black residents consisted of houses that were already more prone to flooding and destruction. Therefore, the hurricane actually disproportionately affected people of color. Additionally, the government was slow to respond after the hurricane occurred, which only increased the effect on Black residents. While some residents were able to evacuate, there were many neighborhoods where people could not leave, which were predominately Black neighborhoods. After seeing it for myself, it was clear that there were still whole areas that are not suitable for living after almost 11 years.
I came across another counter-narrative when I visited the National World War II Museum: the special exhibit narrating African American experiences in the war.
This single room exhibit includes multiple panels and artifacts that narrate the experiences of many African American soldiers in World War II. Many were told that they could not even serve in the war, but the ones who did were given lower positions and treated as “Second Class Soldiers”, as described in the photograph of one of the panels below.
“His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war.”
The quote exposes the essentialism and racism that commonly gets ignored when learning about World War II. Black Americans were generally put in the lowest positions during the war and were not seen as fighters or leaders. Jim Crow laws was definitely present in the war, and the discrimination against Black soldiers prompted the Modern Civil Rights Movement.
History follows a master narrative, which almost always comes from the White, male perspective. Because this perspective is so normalized, we are supposed to see it as the objective truth and that is how it is taught. Counter narratives provide information that show different perspectives and thus draw attention to the flaws of the master narratives. This exhibit served as a counter narrative to highlight the racial discrimination, and to help us understand how African American soldiers’ experiences in the war were actually very different than those of the White soldiers. While I thought the exhibit was very well done and served as a crucial part of the museum, I later realized that it was only a special exhibit, meaning it was only temporary. This got me thinking, what is the correct way to include counter narratives right now? Does having a separate exhibit draw more attention or should they be better integrated into the whole museum?