President Barack Obama praised the opening of the new museum of African-American history in Washington D.C. on Friday for putting the struggle of black Americans in context.
Obama acknowledged that the timing of the museum opening was “fascinating,” referring to the riots in Charlotte, and complained that the images on television lacked the historical context.
“What people see on television and what they hear on the radio is bereft of context and ignores history,” he said during a reception at the White House celebrating the museum. “And so people are just responding as if none of what’s represented in this museum ever happened.”
He expressed the hope that Americans would visit the museum and both sympathize and empathize with black Americans who were still angry.
“My hope is that as people … upon visiting the museum may step back and say I understand. I sympathize. I empathize. I can see why folks might feel angry and I want to be part of the solution as opposed to resisting change,” he said.
He added that he hoped that “black folks” could see the struggles in Charlotte and still have hope for a better future.
“If we join hands and if we do things right, if we maintain our dignity and we continue to appeal to the better angels of this nation, progress will be made,” Obama said.
He said that history was a good teacher for Americans, but warned public officials to be vigilant.
“Without vigilance, we can go backwards as well as forward,” he said.
Obama pointed out that he received letters from critics who said he was treating police officers badly and failing to stop rioters from destroying property in American cities. He added that others wrote him asking him why he wasn’t stopping police shootings of African-American men.
“I understand the nature of that argument because this is a dialogue that we’ve been having for 400 years,” he said.
The museum, he explained, would help Americans understand the history of the African-American struggle.
“My hope is, is that this complicated, difficult, sometimes harrowing but I believe ultimately triumphant story will help us talk to each other, and more importantly listen to each other and even more importantly see each other and recognize the common humanity that makes America what it is,” he said.