During the opening of a new museum dedicated to African-American history, President Barack Obama stated that he hoped the exhibits would help all Americans better understand each other and to have a new historical context for modern racial tensions.
On Sept. 24, Obama spoke before the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
“This is the place to understand how protest and love of country don’t merely coexist but inform each other, how men can proudly win the gold for their country but still insist on raising a black-gloved fist, how we can wear an ‘I can’t breathe’ T-shirt and still grieve for fallen police officers,” Obama said, according to Time.
Thousands of visitors had gathered on the National Mall to christen the new museum. Comprised of 12 exhibits, the museum chronicles slavery, decades of segregation, and the Civil Rights movement, and celebrates the contributions of African-Americans to the U.S. and popular culture, CNN reports.
Joining Obama at the opening ceremony were former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was also in attendance.
“This museum provides context for the debates of our times,” Obama continued. “It illuminates them and gives us some sense of how they evolved and perhaps keep them in proportion.”
The president added that he hoped a white visitor could tour the exhibits and better understand the trauma and anger of black communities that protest today.
Obama also hopes that it might help African-American visitors understand their history and to recognize that within “the white communities across the nation, we see the sincerity of law enforcement and officials who … are struggling to understand and are trying to do the right thing.”
The president concluded that the museum elevates African-Americans as equal players in the history of the U.S.
“We’re not a burden on America or a stain on America or an object of shame and pity for America,” Obama said. “We are America. And that’s what this museum explains.”
Obama’s speech arrives days after GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that African Americans have it worse during the current administration than ever before.
“Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before,” Trump told his supporters in North Carolina on Sept. 20, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Ever, ever, ever.”
Obama recommended that Trump visit the new museum before making such provocative statements.
“You know, I think even most 8-years-olds’ll tell you that whole slavery thing wasn’t very good for black people,” Obama told ABC News. “Jim Crow wasn’t very good for black people.”
Obama concluded that he hoped the museum would inspire children of all ages and creeds.
“What I think you want is for this generation of kids to come away thinking, ‘Yeah, everybody can do everything,’” Obama said. “That if you’re a little white boy, or a little white girl, little black boy, little black girl, a Latino, Asian, if you grow up and you are gay or straight, if you are disabled, that you’re empowered.”