Prompt Images

On a day off last week, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. It was my first time viewing the lower floors of the museum, which house the exhibits on slavery, the Civil War, segregation, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement.

The museum houses literally miles of artifacts, photos, and memories of our nation’s worst history. As a white man, I was fully prepared to shut up and try to understand what it must feel like to walk these hallways as a descendant of someone who endured the horrifying events I merely had to read about. I was ready for a somber, quiet, reflective, and emotional journey.

Standing in line before entering, something caught my eye, coming down the escalator, jarring me out of my prepared introspection. A red cap. You know which one. And it wasn’t a fresh one, bought from a vendor in D.C. or in preparation for a trip to the nation’s capital. This red MAGA cap was dirty and broken in, like a baseball mitt or an ideology. Under the hat was a boy in his late teens who was also wearing a shirt that read “TRUMP.”

My immediate feelings and judgements threw me from one world of discomfort into another. I wondered if the majority of black patrons around me had seen him. Questions raced through my head. I wished that I could interview him and understand even a small part of what the hell was going on.

Here is what I wanted to know and would have asked him:

  • Tickets to this museum are extremely hard to get, and no one just walks in unexpectedly. When you woke up this morning, you knew you were coming here. Why did you decide to wear this today? Were you trying to make a statement about free speech? Was this a statement about something else?
  • When did you decide to put the hat and shirt on and how long did that decision take you? Did you make the decision independent of your parents? [who were riding down the escalator and talking with him]Is this your only political shirt?
  • Why do you support the president and are there elements of him or his presidency that you do not support? Do you understand what your outfit stands for? Could you imagine how your clothing choices may affect others, specifically in this museum? Do you feel like you are a guest here today? Would it bother you that your clothes may bother others?
  • Do you want to be here today? What are you hoping to learn at this museum? What has left a strong impression on you here today?
  • Are you planning on visiting Emmett Till’s casket today (or did you already?) What do you know bout Emmett Till? Were you taken aback by the displays of shackles and how small they were? Did you read the James Baldwin quotes on the wall about history being present all around us? What image has left the strongest impression on you?
  • Are you comfortable in this museum? Where was the last place you went where you felt uncomfortable?
  • Do you think all Americans are equal? Do you think all Americans are treated equally? When do you believe slavery in America ended?

And I wanted to ask his parents:

  • How much does your family talk about politics or civil rights? Did you discuss today’s visit to the museum? Do you believe your son understands the gravity of our history? Are you proud of him?

Unfortunately, he and his family walked past the line I was standing in and proceeded towards the cafeteria. My day continued, walking through a dark basement filled with hellish memories and hateful old artifacts, unable to shake the image of a hateful living artifact walking freely through the halls.



Josh Bard

Josh Bard is a guy. A sports guy, an ideas guy, a wise guy, a funny guy, a Boston guy, and sometimes THAT guy. Never been a Guy Fieri guy, though.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more