Museums, systemic racism, and #blacklivesmatter

12/16/2014

Friends, colleagues, and clients–

It is with hope, optimism, and a grateful heart that I am re-posting the joint statement below, which you likely have also seen on other blogs (see list at bottom of page). Thanks to those of you who crafted this joint statement.

Like many of you, the recent murders of unarmed black men and the blatant injustices perpetrated (again and again) against people of color in my home country have been stirring up so many emotions. I feel strongly, vehemently, that we have a role and we are responsible for action or inaction; each of us as individuals, and the collective “us” as museums. If not us, who?

That said, I feel wary.

This excerpt from a blog post by Nikhil Trivedi (written December 12, 2014) resonates with me:

“In what ways do museums express anti-blackness? Many of our large, historical institutions can link our existences closely with histories of slavery, colonialism and genocide. Black histories have systematically been erased by those who dominated the present, so in what ways do the presentations of our collections, information and our spaces erase black lives? How do we engage with the communities we reside in to mutually heal from these historical community traumas, and dismantle the ways in which they continue to operate? Museums aren’t homogenous, and each of our institutions express anti-blackness in specific ways. What meaning does saying ‘black lives matter’ take when we simultaneously perpetuate anti-black racism?

Any meaningful response must come from a place of being committed to ending the oppression that has created such awful events, otherwise the response is self-serving. We must recognize that the recent killings are deeply connected with a history that includes slavery and genocide, and that many of our institutions have roots that connect with it.

I worry that some of the urgency we feel around responding to the recent attention on anti-black state violence comes from a fear that our institutions are not staying relevant. But I wonder, if a good number of visitors of color haven’t been to our institutions in over 5 years, to whom are we currently relevant? Making statements in support of the current movements won’t fundamentally change the ways in which we relate to black people in our communities. I recognize that our silence is complicity, but I don’t think we have to jump further ahead than where we are. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with our communities about where we need to criticize our selves, strengthen our relationships and let’s work to build the trust that will help us grow sustaining relationships with black people in our communities. Those actions will speak louder than any of our words ever could.”

This is a time for leadership and action, and I am glad we are talking about it. It has helped me greatly to read your posts, thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Systemic racism is real. Our country’s history of race and racism is real. Museum white supremacy is real. The work we need to do is real. I look forward to doing it alongside of you. It won’t happen overnight, but it has to start today.

-Kate

——-

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues on Ferguson and related events:

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

 

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge. University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the #FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players to rock stars,are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

 

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

 

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines.  Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.”  We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

 

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role–as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit–in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

 

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum?  Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only theAssociation of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; theAssociation of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

You can join us by…

–Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media

–Contributing to and following the Twitter tag #museumsrespondtoFerguson which is growing daily

–Checking out Art Museum Teaching which has a regularly updated resource,Teaching #Ferguson: Connecting with Resources

–Sharing additional resources in the comments

–Asking your professional organization to respond

–Checking out the programs at The Missouri History Museum. It has held programs related to Ferguson since August and is planning more for 2015.

–Looking at the website for International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. They are developing information on how to conduct community conversations on race.

Participating Bloggers and Colleagues:

–Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons

–Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum

–Aleia Brown, AleiaBrown.org

–Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities

–Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching

–Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum

–Paul Orselli  ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog

–Ed Rodley, Thinking About Museums

–Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities

–Nina Simon, Museum 2.0

–Rainey Tisdale, CityStories

–Jeanne Vergeront  Museum Notes

–Porchia Moore, Cultural Heritage Informatics Librarian, University of South Carolina + regular contributor, Incluseum The Incluseum

–Kate Tinworth, ExposeYourMuseum

 

Resources (updated Dec 17, 2014):

–American Alliance of Museums Diversity and Inclusion Policy

–Statement from Sam Black, President, Association of African American Museums Board of Directors

–Remarks by Association for the Study of African American Life and History after grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and New York City, NY

–Social Justice Alliance for Museums

–Statement from New England Museum Association

–5 Tips for Being An Ally

–“A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement” by Alicia Garza

–Responding to the Events in Ferguson and Beyond: The Northwest African American Museum’s Example

–Statement from Melanie Adams, President, Association of Midwest Museums

–Statement from American Association for State and Local History

–Ferguson Must Force Us to Face Anti-Blackness

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