As a longtime museum professional who is white, I do not presume to speak for my colleagues of color at this moment. I speak only for myself. But I wish that this statement or something like it could be published by the still predominantly white museum field. And I include myself as an individual who has been complicit in many of these areas throughout my museum career. What we need to do before we can issue any expressions of outrage or protest regarding the murder of George Floyd and the untold numbers of black people who have been killed by racial prejudice in this country is to acknowledge our continuous and persistent participation in this violence:
Through our buildings built by enslaved people and funded through the slave trade;
Through our collections gathered through colonial power and theft;
Through our dehumanization of the non-white world in our dioramas and exhibitions that reduce human beings to museum artifacts;
Through our telling only part of the story when we recount the history of our country
Through our study and evaluation of the visitor experience primarily with our usual visitors – white, educated, middle class;
Through our active or passive participation during the Jim Crow period, from outright barring to discouragement of visitors of color;
Through our continued focus on white and male artists, scientists, and other historical figures in our collections, exhibitions, and programming.
Through hiring policies that result in very little participation of colleagues of color in boards, leadership, senior and professional positions;
Through our plantation museums, historic houses, and other venues where we have hidden or downplayed enslavement and other racist practices, offering these places instead as sites of celebration;
Through the undue burden that our interpretive/front line staff, many of whom are colleagues of color, have borne in recent museum layoffs around the country.
Through our continued resistance to true diversity, equity, and inclusion as illustrated by the situation in which we find ourselves today: After initiatives and movements such as #museumsrespondtoFerguson, Museums and Race, the Empathetic Museum, Museum Hue, MASSAction, #visitorsofcolor, #MuseumWorkersSpeak, and many others, little has changed in the way our institutions operate with regard to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion.
As of June 22, 2020: Reader Lee Boot, Director of Imaging Research Center, UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore), sent these thoughts which I decided to add:
“Through the whole idea of museums that counter the performative relationship so many peoples have had and still with their objects of art.
Through the siloing of art practice as art practice.
Through siloing everything to manifest a Western, European framing of the world.”
We acknowledge all this. We are participants in the racism of our society. We are sorry. We must do better. We are ready to listen and to change.