In an exclusive report out Sunday, Fox News noted that a “little noticed” report from a National Archives task force on racism suggested the building, where America’s founding documents are displayed, was an example of “structural racism” and suggested major changes to how the Constitution and other notable records are presented in order to provide “context.”
The group also reportedly suggested that the National Archive’s portrayal of individual founding fathers was too positive.
The group, Fox News said Sunday, “claimed in a little-noticed report to the U.S.’s top librarian that the Archives’ own Rotunda – which houses the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – is an example of ‘structural racism’ and that the Founding Fathers and other White, historically impactful Americans are portrayed too positively.”
The task force, which completed its work in April, noted that “structural racism” included “legacy descriptions that use racial slurs and harmful language to describe BIPOC communities,” like racial slurs but also terms like “elderly,” “handicapped” and “illegal alien.”
The National Archives rotunda fell under serious scrutiny because its frescoes and displays laud the achievements of “wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and other People of Color], women, and other communities.”
They suggested that the National Archives engage in activities that could provide “context” to the rotunda and documents through “dance or performance art in the space that invites dialogue about the ways that the United States has mythologized the founding era.”
As for the documents and displays, the committee suggested “trigger warnings” for individuals who might suffer “physiological and psychological symptoms” as a result of coming into contact with the information and artwork in the rotunda.
“Providing an advisory notice to users gives us an opportunity to mitigate harm and contextualize the records,” the report said, per Fox. “It creates a space to share with the public our ultimate goals for reparative description, demonstrate our commitment to the process, and address any barriers that we may face in achieving these goals (i.e., the size and scope of the Catalog and the ever-evolving knowledge we gain regarding what is harmful).”
The committee also suggested the National Archives add “safe spaces” where visitors having difficulties could take a time out and process the information.
As for the founders, the committee had ideas about how to contextualize Revolutionary War heroes, including the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.
According to the report:
OurDocuments.gov features transcripts and historical context of ‘100 milestone documents of American history’ but often uses adulatory and excessive language to document the historical contributions of White, wealthy men.
For example, a search of Thomas Jefferson in OurDocuments.gov brings up 24 results. He is described in this sample lesson plan as a ‘visionary’ who took ‘vigorous action’ to strengthen the ‘will of the nation to expand westward.
The plan does not mention that his policy of westward expansion forced Native Americans off their ancestral land, encouraged ongoing colonial violence, and laid the groundwork for further atrocities like the Trail of Tears.
The National Archives’ director commissioned the report last year following George Floyd’s death. It is not clear whether the National Archives have a plan to follow up on the committee’s recommendations.
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