As much as it absolutely disgusted me to read that Smithsonian fundraisers would stoop so low as to allow Shell Oil to contribute one penny to the new “African Voices” exhibit (“A Dear Price,” 1/21), I have to reserve most of my contempt for selfish, self-centered middle-class African-Americans.
I find it hard to believe that middle-class African-Americans could not have represented a significant group of funders for this exhibition. With one of America’s largest concentrations of monied black people, the Washington metro area alone could have constituted a high percentage of contributors. As proof, you have only to walk on Howard University’s campus after a reception and find enough big-shot administrators riding around in BMWs and Lexuses to make you think that you’ve stumbled upon a black paradise.
Buying up Kente-cloth-print bags and hats and African masks and other artwork on sale at Marshall’s is less a testament to one’s pride in one’s African heritage than it is to black people’s typical and anticipated (by marketing gums) subjugation to American consumerism.
Shell’s destruction of life and property in the Delta oil field region of Nigeria is well known. While serving as one of the few African-American Peace Corps Volunteers in the Republic of Benin (which borders Nigeria), I met many Nigerians and even had the opportunity to travel there. When approached about the subject, they would often state that they failed to see any benefit to their lives as a result of Shell’s presence, citing the fact that very few jobs have been created for the many inhabitants whose land Shell occupies.
In this prosperous American economy that seems to be giving so much to so many, I would have imagined that the accompanying feeling of security would afford folks the flexibility to contribute to intellectual and cultural pursuits such as the funding of exhibitions. But because of either the black middle class’s indifferent attitude toward its African heritage or its incessant self-absorbed tendency to look the other way when asked to lend support, especially financial, for the overall betterment of black peoples, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt in my mind that had this exhibit not been put up, those same loudmouth, highfalutin Negroes would have been the very ones running around accusing the Smithsonian’s “white” officialdom of racism, as was the case with the scrapped African-American museum on the Mall.