Why fight it? Use it. The Double Standard
I’m used to double standards in life. They exist in relationships between men and women, they run politics and have been one of those facts of life you don’t really care for but they are what they are and whatever.
However there seems to be a double standard that I think should be discussed and exposed. If not for myself, but for the greater good as it pertains to the interpretation of the enslaved experience. I’ve hashed out the “first vs. third person” explanations and as long as you are doing third person interpretation, then the discussion of slave life is up for anyone to talk about…with accuracy. But recently, I discovered that I was being held to a double standard and I don’t particularly know how I feel about it. When in a meeting discussing the African American interpretation for a program, I was told that unless it was delivered by an African American, then the presentation would be “cheapened”. Problem is, I wouldn’t be available to present that day, and I suggested since we don’t do first person, it would be simple enough to talk about it. My stance is that as long as you know what you’re talking about, go for it. Information can be provided and shared quite simply.
I got frustrated because I had been versed in every aspect of the site and its history so that I can give the visitor a complete experience and to hear someone say that they did not want to talk about the enslaved experience because they felt it should only be given by an African American, well I got annoyed. For any place that is doing interpretation that includes slave life, it’s imperative that your entire interpretive group be comfortable in presenting the information. You cannot guarantee that you’ll always have staff available to give the history you may not be comfortable giving and when you skip over it, you cheat the visitor out of something amazing.
Of course there are those who feel that the interpretation of slave life should remain with African American interpreters because they are “closer” to the story than their white counterparts. To that, I also throw out the fact that not every one of African descent was enslaved so they may not be as “close” as you think.
The hidden double standard that exists, that may not even be noticed by most, has to be eliminated if this particular history is to be interpreted at all. Or maybe that’s what those who portray the standard are looking for. A way out of telling the story. Either way, like other double standards, I will use this one to my benefit. A complete knowledge and comfort with the history gives me a complete and comfortable interpretation to the visitor.