Having been hauled by kids into most of the amusement parks along the East Coast, I'll probably end up at the Disney's America historic theme park someday. But instead of scanning the park map for roller coasters, as I usually do, my main objective there will be keeping the kids away from the slave show.
A Lewis and Clark river ride? Fine. An Industrial Revolution Ferris wheel? Just strap me in. But to walk into a theme park with an exhibit designed to make me "feel what it was like to be a slave" simply lacks that amusing quality that I've come to expect.
Now, I may be completely wrong about this. But in order to give visitors an authentic slave experience, we'd be looking at a Jurassic Park-like setup, right, with plantation overseers as virtual reality? Count me out. I can just imagine the simulated auction-block breakup of families who get sold down South to Orlando and are forced to work at Disney wages.
Forgive me. But as a black parent, I have to be prepared for the worst. In all my years, I have never ceased to be amazed by America's endless penchant for racial madness. In a nation that buys wholesale into Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, who can blame Disney for figuring that some of these same customers would be amused by black people strapped to a whipping post in 3-D Sensurround sound?
Against a backdrop of a continuing distortion of African American history, which includes awful textbooks and self-induced amnesia about the legacy of slavery, a slave exhibit by Disney doesn't even sound right.
Peter Rummell, president of Disney Design and Development, has attempted to counter this contradictory imagery by insisting that the company doesn't give a darn about political correctness.
"An intelligent story properly told shouldn't offend anybody," he said.
But how can the story of slavery not offend? And what about the words of Bob Weiss, a Disney vice president, who promises to leave tourists "feeling good" about their visit to the park?
Something's got to give.
Quite frankly, I think it ought to be the slavery exhibit itself. Just leave it out. Disney never would have entertained the idea of a Holocaust exhibit near a merry-go-round. Besides, we've got enough mementos to the legacy of slavery.
Our city schools sure look like slave museums to me. Sometimes it seems that when it was illegal to teach blacks to read and write, we had more blacks reading and writing than we do now.
You want to see a slave exhibit in Virginia? Go to Lorton, where more black men wear shackles than business suits. And what about our neighborhoods, which feature liquor stores on every corner? They represent a lot of black people with alcohol on the brain, embalmed in their own slave museums.
Better to get rid of some of those exhibits before we start coming up with new ones.
Nevertheless, the Disney slave show is planned for a pavilion called We the People, which is described as "a park area celebrating the nation's immigrant heritage, including ethnic foods, music and multimedia exhibits."
And I wonder what kind of food goes with the spectacle of a slave being raped? (Oh, that won't be in there? Then what is Weiss talking about when he says, "This is not a Pollyanna view of America"?)
You can bet that the Ellis Island experience will be a featured part of the immigrant heritage. But there should also be a hologram, at least, of California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) whipping up an anti-Hispanic immigration fervor. And how about some video of AWACS aircraft patrolling the ditches along the Texas-Mexico border while the U.S. Coast Guard returns Haitian refugees to their deaths?
A rough map of the recently unveiled Disney park highlights the flaws of using an amusement format for historic displays. Everything is compartmentalized, as if history happens in a vacuum. Indeed, the park appears to re-create the same distortions found in most public school history texts.
In our children's books, the end of a cursory treatment of slavery marks the end of black folks in American history -- until Martin Luther King Jr. appears sometime during the so-called 1960s civil rights era.
Will black people be included in Disney's version of the Industrial Revolution? They rarely show up there in history books. What about on Disney's Victory's Field exhibit? Except for the Tuskegee Airmen, blacks almost never show up as soldiers who fought for democracy in America.
For Disney, which would like to attract 30,000 people a day, the compartmentalized approach probably makes good business, but it's lousy history. At least it'll be possible for me to visit the park, hit the rides and miss the lynchings.
Then again, the plans are still on the drawing boards, so maybe, just maybe, Disney will get it right. For all I know, the Underground Railroad will allow you to enter Tomorrowland, where kids get Happy Meals for surviving.