Catherine—Cat—Graham joined Westport Museum as an associate, after graduating from Staples High School in 2019. In addition to greeting visitors, she is learning the ropes of the museum field, and also uses her skills and talent as an artist to help exhibit installation and more.
“My sense of the current-ness of history especially in more recent years has consumed many of my thoughts. But this current-ness isn’t new. Systematic oppression advances as fast as technology. A telephone is a telephone if it’s a rotary phone or a smartphone. But with my new exposure to local history and my town’s place in that history, historical events don’t feel so distant both geographically and chronologically.
I have learned that the interpretation of historical events has almost always been done by the victors. Rarely are the stories of everyone ever told, giving people in the present an incomplete picture of the truth. This is especially important in this moment because one day we’ll look back on this moment from a historical perspective and I hope that people in the future will interpret the immense documentation of our current climate in a holistic way, and they may learn from the choices we are making right now.
I want other people to know that while it feels very much like nothing has changed, in a lot of ways that’s true, progress has been made. In our exhibit Taking the Cure I realized how the narrative around mental illness has changed. While we still have a long way to go in our treatment and discussion around mental illness, there has been immense strides in the right directions. I joke rather morbidly sometimes that if I were alive a few decades ago a doctor may diagnose me with being a black girl and I’d never see the light of day again. But I find that before mental illness was a taboo topic, buried away instead of treated. Now, my friends and loved ones openly discuss therapy and medication and feel safe to do so. While it’s taken a long time to get where we are now, and there is still a long way to go, change can be made. Being surrounded by our past every day at work has made me realize that there is hope for our future.
I’m a biracial girl so my experiences in life will always be safer and easier than that of a fully black person. I also am very light, my skin is more olive than brown. Because of this I am not “enough” to many people. To white people I’m not white enough to be white but I do not fit the picture of blackness they have painted in their minds. To black people I am not enough because I haven’t been hurt enough and to an extent that is true, my light skin is a shield in many ways. I have never in my life had a black person teach me black history in school. Neither have many of my peers, so I can’t really blame them for what they think I should be.
While I go home to a black mother who introduces me to black history, art, movies etc, my white peers don’t. Black issues and black history are almost a fiction. It’s too far back to be real and too far removed from them to be related to them. Oppression is part of the same world as poodle skirts and sock hops, because my white peers rarely interact with black people unless they are behind a checkout counter or cleaning their house. I was often the only black person in the room in my classrooms growing up. The students I sat beside only interacting with blackness when it’s convenient. They love rap music. They love full lips. They love a tan. They love thickness. They love the n word. They love black bodies and minds as long as they don’t have to live in them. I can’t blame them for wanting me to be something else when they can wash blackness off in the shower and don’t have to risk being killed for it.
I think forcing our citizens to look our history in the eye to understand what the truth is, is important. The Museum’s exhibit Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport was an incredible step forward and I am so happy I was able to see it even before I worked there and can now appreciate the work that went into making an exhibit like that. I never learned about Angela Davis or Tulsa Oklahoma in school let alone the enslaved black people that were considered the property of the people my [high] school is named after. I sat at the front desk of the museum over the summer facing the mural of names [of enslaved and free people of color]. My name –Cat– was one of them. Museums like the one I work at are incredibly important. Not only because they document, protect, and tell historical stories like this one, but also because they make up the gaps in education about what happened. By focusing on everyone’s story, not just the stories of the victors and the oppressors, we are doing right by our citizens.”
Museums … are incredibly important. Not only because they document, protect, and tell historical stories…but also because they make up the gaps in education about what happened.