Mike Lee Claims Women's, Latino Museums Too Divisive, Unlike Trump Pretending He Won Election
In late November, Utah Sen. Mike Lee took to Parler to chastise Democrats calling for unity after the election, saying that if unity is something they want, then "regardless of what [they] think of President Trump or the legal theories being pursued by his lawyers" they've got to "at least acknowledge that he has every right to verify the fairness and accuracy of the election." Earlier that month, he refused to even acknowledge that Biden had won, and said he would not do that until Trump had exhausted all of his options.
Now Lee — who, as far as we know, has not yet acknowledged that Trump lost the election — is making his own call for unity. But rather than suggest everyone concede that the election was handled fairly, Lee would like for there not to be a Smithsonian Women's History Museum or an American Latino Museum. On Thursday, he blocked the legislation that would have created both of them.
"The last thing we need," Lee explained, "is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups."
Hyphenated identity groups? Like Woman-Americans?
You will notice that the most intense opposition to the concept of "hyphenated Americans" very rarely actually comes from said "Hyphenated Americans" but rather from, well, white people — and usually white people who are Protestants of Northern European descent. It's always framed as a call for us all to unite together, but it is really a call to unite behind.
Mike Lee doesn't want for the Smithsonian to simply include more exhibits highlighting the achievements of women and Latinx people in its museums, but rather for us all to see those exhibits largely focused on the achievements of white men as representing all of us equally. And there is a reason for that.
Calls for erasure are often framed as calls for unity or opposition to division. In fact, a large percentage of the more "serious-minded" opposition to women voting wasn't framed just as "women are too stupid or too emotional to have a say in politics" or even "women are less than men" — but rather that the husband was voting for the household and that husbands and wives voting for different candidates would create "division in the family." Same deal with the Americanization movement in the early 20th century. Immigrants were encouraged to shed any "foreign-seeming" characteristics and reject their cultural heritage in pursuit of assimilating and being more "American" (or as some members of my hyphenated-American identity group might say, Medigan).
This wasn't done "for them," just as denying women the vote wasn't done "for them" — but rather for the comfort of those in power.
The reason a Women's History museum is needed, the reason an American Latino Museum is needed, is because Latinx people and all women are not given their due representation in the national museums. As NPR notes, the Smithsonian has been aware of the lack of representation of Latinx Americans since at least 1994, when they published a report on themselves noting that the museum "almost entirely excludes and ignores Latinos in nearly every aspect of its operations."
What people like Mike Lee want is for no one to notice that kind of thing, because people noticing those kinds of things is the step that comes right before asking for more. Or worse, right before all of those "hyphenated identity groups" decide to unite together against people like Mike Lee. If people don't notice when women are left out of things, if they don't notice when Latinx people or Black people or other people of color are left out of things, white men get to retain their dominance and their status as the default player. They get to ensure that they get the bulk of empathy, understanding and goodwill because other people will identify with them as much as they identify with themselves. That is how you retain power.
If Mike Lee wants "unity," he can start by deciding that maybe it shouldn't be his business to decide whether women deserve their own history museum or Latinx people deserve their own history museum. He could show unity with other people, rather than demand they show unity with him. And then he can follow that up by acknowledging that Trump lost the election.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse