Is the Capitol racist? National Archives calls paintings ‘oppressive and exclusionary’

A National Archives task force on racism condemns famous rotunda paintings for 'structural racism', suggests changes to reimagine the space including labels and new works


                            Is the Capitol racist? National Archives calls paintings ‘oppressive and exclusionary’
Tourists view paintings in the Rotunda of the US Capitol during a media tour of the Capitol dome December 19, 2013 in Washington, DC (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The battle over racism has reached the US Capitol - literally. On June 27, Fox News unearthed an April report that has a National Archives task force calling the Capitol's Rotunda as an example of "structural racism." The task force also issued suggestions to "reimagine the Rotunda", to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The Rotunda is far from the latest victim of America's 'woke' movement, that many conservatives have slammed. On June 25, we reported that the Brandeis University in Massachusetts dubbed the word 'picnic' as oppressive. A day before that, The Education Trust-West was widely slammed for calling mathematics "racist". We also reported that a Seattle Pride event left the city divided after it reportedly called on White attendees to pay repatriations. 

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Now, concerns have been raised about the US Capitol, at the heart of the American government. The controversial report by the National Archives' task force on racism lists the Rotunda as one of the few examples of "structural racism", along with racial slurs and legacy descriptions, and a greater number of BIPOC in lower-paying, lower-status jobs.  

Workers clean a painting in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

Is the Capitol racist?

If you've ever visited the famous Rotunda, you'll see it is filled with a variety of artworks. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the landing of Columbus on American soil, and even the Baptism of Pocahontas. For well over a century, these images have captured the attention of millions of visitors, but according to the National Archives, at a cost. The report claims the works "lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC, women, and other communities." 

The Rotunda does feature women, and minorities but not in the same positions of power as White men. There are installations like the bust of Martin Luther King Jr, and a group portrait of the pioneers of the women's suffrage moment. However, the task force appears to be taking an issue with the artworks placing more prominence on White men like the founding fathers, Christopher Columbus, and George Washington. In particular, it calls the Faulkner murals "oppressive and exclusionary." 

The report suggests a few short and long-term fixes for this problem. For one, it says labels needed to be added "addressing the lack of representation and predominant focus on the men who framed the founding documents. These labels could also address efforts to reimagine the Rotunda for the future." It also calls for new exhibits that "explores the roles of women, enslaved Africans, and Indigenous Americans in the founding of the United States." Another idea is to "stage dance or performance art in the space that invites dialogue about the ways that the United States has mythologized the founding era."

Tourists visiting the US Capitol at the famous Rotunda, on 20 April 2013. (Ingfbruno/Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, the report says the National Archives should "commission a series of temporary sculptures or art installations for the Rotunda's empty niches." Fox News also claims the report calls for trigger warnings, but this was not mentioned in the section dedicated to the Capitol. Instead, the report merely defines a trigger warning under its "General Definitions and Acronyms" section. The only other areas the word is used is in relation to a policy, or review process in case reports of racism are made. 

The task force goes beyond the Capitol, to offer recommendations to improve diversity and representation at NARA, from hiring to training. It was formed by National Archivist David Ferriero following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It concludes by saying, "reimagining the Rotunda will stir controversy. To avoid alienating a segment of our audience as we work toward a more inclusive approach, we must be careful to present the project as a means of adding to, rather than repudiating, the celebration of the nation’s origins." 

It is unclear if the recommendations will be taken up by NARA. There is no word on whether it will be, or if Congress will take up the report for debate.

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