The history of museums is fraught. Though some serve as vital community centers, many were founded and continue to be funded by the white and wealthy, with that wealth derived from a history of slavery, colonialism, exploitation, and violence. It is impossible for institutions to remain uninfluenced by systematic bias, including the deeply embedded anti-Black racism that caused the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arvery, Tony McDade, and many before them. The New York City Museum Educators Roundtable mourns their deaths and stands with the waves of protestors and activists working toward change across the country.
Black lives matter. As museum educators, we serve as community advocates and we know that to lift up Black lives is to lift us all up. To best serve our communities, we must engage with anti-racist practices personally and professionally. While many museums remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, our work as educators never stops.
As we call on museums, museum leaders, board members, and educators to address systematic bias, we highlight the following actions. Additionally, we have listed resources below this statement compiled by the Board of the Museum Education Roundtable, which we have expanded upon, that approach various aspects of support.
- Analyze your collections to reveal throughlines of racial injustice in history, art, anthropology, science, and museology, and bring those to light. If the stories of underrepresented communities are missing, reflect on why those are lacking in your collections and work to display those stories.
- Consider existing structures of racism that keep our workplaces largely racially segregated by job type and status, take steps to dismantle the barriers you can control, and advocate for broader change beyond your walls. Black communities are among those most deeply affected by COVID-19 – both the virus and the economic fallout – and we must confront the extent to which decisions around museum staffing, layoffs, and furloughs during this crisis have mirrored this.
- Amplify the voices of and listen to Black artists, scientists, curators, researchers, educators, and others. Pay fair wages.
- Challenge yourself and your audiences by asking difficult questions about racial identity, racism, and how it impacts the space museums exist in.
In February, NYCMER hosted “Unpacking Identity: Museums, Race, and Education,” a workshop by Keonna Hendrick and Marit Dewhurst. We wish to share their words again:
“Silence, in the face of racism and injustice, is complicity. While some may want to believe that museums are neutral spaces, they are far from that. It is our responsibility—as educators committed to creating more just and equitable societies—to understand how our daily practices might actually enable White supremacist (and heteronormative, patriarchal) thinking. And while the work that must be done can feel overwhelming at times, we just cannot be afraid to start.”
– Dewhurst, M. & K. Hendrick. (2016) “Dismantling Racism in Museum Education.” Journal of Folklore and Education, (3). 25–30.
Challenging and addressing systematic roadblocks involves long-term work. We are committed to advocating for diversity and equity in the field, and our broader communities. We know that NYCMER has work to do. In particular, we thank our Peer Groups for engaging members with issues of injustice and inherent bias. We invite your input, and you are welcome to email us at email@example.com.
We stand with, support, and thank those working to challenge and change systems of oppression. Especially during a time of overlapping crises.
The New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Board of Trustees
Resources & Calls to Action
Thank you to the board of the Museum Education Roundtable (MER) for compiling these lists. We are grateful for their leadership in this area. The NYCMER board has added additional resources to the original and we invite you to send us additions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s what we can do right now:
- If you can, donate to local groups on the ground pushing for transformative justice like Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, and the North Star Health Collective; and nationally like the Equal Justice Initiative, The Bail Project, Black Lives Matter, and Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Call legislators;
- Sign this petition from Color of Change;
- Register to vote and encourage others to do the same.
- Subscribe and complete the Americans of Consciousness Political Action Checklist
Here’s what we can do within the museum field:
- Audit your work, your privilege, and your sphere of influence; consider where you can be most useful;
- Integrate antiracist and culturally responsive pedagogy into your practice; reading, or rereading, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire or Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay;
- Read “Activating Diversity and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Museum Educators as Allies and Change Makers” by Wendy Ng, Syrus Marcus Ware, and Alyssa Greenberg from the JME issue 42.2;
- Intervene during acts of injustice against people of color, from microaggressions to violence;
- Download the Museums as Site for Social Action Readiness Assessment;
- Complete the Asian American Racial Justice Toolkit;
- Understand intersectionality and apply that lens to your work;
- Recognize the link between ableism and racism; create exhibits, programs and exhibits that prioritize access for all;
- Partner with local racial and social justice groups in your community and pay them for their expertise;
- Read the Social Justice & Museums Resource List curated by organizer and art historian La Tanya Autry;
- Visit Adrianne Russell’s #MuseumsRespondToFerguson resource list; Mike Murawski expanded on this work to include resources for teaching about Ferguson.
For museum workers who are, or want to become allies, advocates, accomplices:
- Recognize how this violence affects Black, Indigenous and colleagues of color deeply and differently than white colleagues;
- Make space for Black friends, colleagues, and family to grieve and mourn; center them and their experiences rather than your own;
- Talk with kids, students, coworkers, family, and friends about race;
- Join or start reading and discussion groups like Building Antiracist White Educators, centered around racial equity
- Support BIPOC organizations in a sustainable way, not just during crises; send funds to thought leaders and changemakers that you learn from using platforms like Venmo or Paypal; become a Patreon member of podcasts that challenge your bias;
- Confront your own bias and unearth the ways that white supremacy has benefited you; then start dismantling it.
- Create a White Anti-Racism Caucus (WARA)
- Look over and complete this list of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
Reading list for white people confronting anti-black racism:
- White Fragility by Robin J. DeAngelo, and other selected titles from this booklist for white readers from Atlanta’s Charis Books
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know by Gary R. Howard, edited by James A. Banks
- The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
- Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States Edited by: Maya Schnewar, Joe Macarè, and Alana Yu-Ian Price
- For educators: Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks
Like MER, “We acknowledge that much of the framework for organizing how museums can and should respond to injustice has been the labor of people of color, in particular Black women. We thank Adrianne Russell and Aleia Brown (#MuseumsRespondToFerguson); La Tanya Autry and Mike Murawski (#MuseumsAreNotNeutral); and Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Andrea J. Ritchie (#SayHerName); Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (#BlackLivesMatter); and Porchia Moore and nikhil trivedi (Visitors of Color).”