As many of us continue to revisit the events of the past year — especially the protests against injustice and inequality — we are reminded of the overwhelming work that has been done, along with the work we have yet to finish. From tackling issues that include abuses of power, police brutality and acts of racism, to widening gaps in education and wealth, gendered violence, increased housing insecurity, and the attacks on the rights of people who are LGBTQ, the historic work being done to boost awareness and to resolve these issues is unfolding in the present.
For the San Diego History Center and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, this history is valuable and worthy of documentation. The two organizations have partnered in a virtual discussion at 6 p.m. Wednesday , “Curating the Black Lives Matter Movement.” This conversation with Damion Thomas, curator of sports at the NMAAHC, will be moderated by Jim Trotter, a columnist with NFL.com and the NFL Network, who previously wrote for The San Diego Union-Tribune, ESPN and Sports Illustrated.
Thomas, who holds a doctorate in U.S. history and whose fields of expertise include African American history, U.S. diplomatic history and sports history, took some time to talk about his upcoming thought exercise on Wednesday, to help people understand the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. (This email interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: As the curator for sports for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, what’s been your approach to how you’ve curated this exhibition? And what do you hope people take from what they see in the sports exhibition at the museum?
A: My approach to curating the gallery is to tell African American history through the lens of sports. To that end, the gallery does not just celebrate athletic accomplishments; we use sports as entry points to larger social, political and cultural issues.
I curated the gallery within nonsports fans in mind. It is my hope that nonsports fans leave the gallery with the thought that sports matter far beyond the playing field. For sports fans, I hope that they leave realizing that sports have shaped every aspect of American society and are deeply tied to the African American struggle for greater rights in freedoms.
Q: Can you tell us about how your upcoming talk with the San Diego History Center came about? And why you wanted to participate in it?
A: Given the Smithsonian’s role as a national collection of museums, we help support local museums through our Smithsonian Affiliation program. The San Diego History Center is an affiliate and reached out to us to participate in their upcoming event.
I wanted to participate because presentations like this are important for the museum’s work. What we try to do is provide historical contextualization to contemporary issues. This presentation allows me to help people understand the connections between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Q: What can people expect to hear you discuss on Wednesday?
A: People who attend on Wednesday will participate in a thought exercise. I am going to share with them three ways that I look at the Black Lives Matter movement through a curatorial lens: a comparative historical perspective; a contemporary reframing; and, a grassroots messaging analysis. Participants will leave with perspectives that help them think through the historical and contemporary ramifications of the current social protests. Furthermore, participants will leave with a better understanding of the interconnectedness between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Additionally, I will be sharing objects that the museum has collected related to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Q: Without giving too much away, can you talk a bit about your perspective on what it means to “curate the Black Lives Matter movement”? And how the Smithsonian is approaching documenting this history as it’s happening?
A: We are not curating the Black Lives Matter movement, rather we are looking at how to understand the movement from a museum curator’s storytelling perspective. We are creating a representative collection of artifacts that will help us share this story with future generations.
Q: A common response to athletes who use their voices in service to issues they care about is that those athletes should “stick to sports,” meaning they should be silent on those issues and focus solely on playing the game. There seems to be this desire for any discourse about politics or social issues to be completely detached from sports, despite the examples we have that include Jackie Robinson integrating Major League Baseball, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics, Arthur Ashe’s anti-apartheid activism and AIDS awareness work, or Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem at National Football League games to protest police brutality, among many others. How do you see the relationship between sports and politics/social issues? Do sports have a role to play?
A: Sports and social issues are always intertwined. Sports are always used to support and amplify messages. However, most of the time, the messages expressed through sports are not deemed political and/or controversial. Sports provide interesting entry points into these social issues. They often engage diverse audiences, which helps mainstream controversial and often ignored conversations. Because sports are such a powerful medium of communication, we will continue to see people from across the political and social spectrum try to share their messages through the sports arena.
This content was originally published here.