Timothy Anne Burnside and LL Cool J (268806)

A lot of Black users on Twitter are hot over the fact that a white person is the curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) overseeing the section on hip hop, reports NPR and other news sources. Timothy Anne Burnside, a cultural historian and museum specialist, has carefully curated the exhibit; however, questions are being asked if she should be at the helm.

Burnside, a cultural historian and museum specialist with the Smithsonian, happens to be a white woman. For example, according to Hip Hop Wired, Twitter user @DJChubbESwagg caught wind of the fact that Burnside has been the curator of the museum’s ongoing hip-hop exhibit since its onset in 2016. On Thursday, he wrote, “THERE IS A WHITE WOMAN CURATING THE HIP HOP PART OF THE NMAAHC SMITHSONIAN?!?!?!?!?!?!? WHO LET THIS SH*T HAPPEN!?!?!” From there, many of Burnside’s compatriots and colleagues have come to her defense despite getting a strong co-sign from Public Enemy’s Chuck D earlier this year when the exhibit was announced to the public.

In @DJChubbESwag’s question, he pondered openly how Burnside became the best point person for such an exhibit, and he took on heavy criticism for his initial salvo. From there, others began to chime in from all sides of the debate, largely supporting Burnside as a qualified figure for this venture. “That’s a wild thing to say. This is a museum created specifically to highlight Black people and our experience in America and you’re talking about diversity? Really? We crave inclusion and acceptance that much? God bless,” @StefIsDope wrote.

In contrast, Twitter user @_viciwill writes, “[N]o one said Timothy Anne wasn’t qualified to do this role. That’s not even what was up for discussion. The discussion was “were there no Black people who could have filled this role?” which is a valid question to ask about the curators of the Blackest museum in the U.S.” A fair point that has been contended by some of Black Twitter’s more visible voices who supported Burnside, and bandied about by some who feel the point of @DJChubbESwagg’s question was missed overall.

“I don’t know the white woman curating the hip hop section in the NMAAHC, but I hear she is knowledgeable, respected and an ally. But question is, wouldn’t a true ally feel it’s not their place to take a role such as that? As a straight male, I wouldn’t curate an LGBTQ exhibit,” @FredTJoseph wrote. For context, Burnside has been collecting hip-hop related artifacts for the museum and the exhibit for years, including the Late J Dilla’s MPC machine among other items since 2006. She has built strong relationships in the music community and abroad and has been noted as someone who respects Black music and culture without centering herself in the work. She has remained relatively silent on the matter, while a quick look on @DJChubbESwagg’s page proves that the debate is still ongoing and “NMAAHC” is now trending on Twitter.