MUSEUMS AND RACE: LANGUAGE PRIMER #3, ON “OPPRESSION”

 

[We propose a paradigm] for how museums address their responsibility for fair and inclusive staffing, collections, and interpretation, and equality of access to their resources. This paradigm will examine a vocabulary and a set of theories not usually found in current museum discourse:

Oppression: identifying the complex – and too often unacknowledged – ways
in which systemic structural norms influence decision-making so that cultural
institutions present themselves in ways that are unacceptable and exclusionary
to many.

Privilege:  pervasive assumptions of whiteness and wealth, which are counter
to inclusion and diversity (and, in fact, perpetuate white cultural dominance);

Intersectionality: understanding how race intersects with gender, social justice,
class, and socioeconomic status.

Excerpts from the Statement of Purpose of Museums and Race 2016: Transformation and Justice, a convening held in Chicago, IL, Jan 25-27, 2016.

This is the third in a series of posts examining some key terms used in the Statement of Purpose of the Museums and Race initiative.  See previous posts on privilege and intersectionality. The conditions that these terms describe have indeed been examined in the past, especially by museum leaders of color.  The Museums and Race initiative is intentionally bringing these terms forward once again in order to focus attention on systems that prevent museums from changing their stance with regard to race and racism.

For this post on museums and oppression, I turned to nikhil trivedi, who has spoken and written clearly and forcefully on this topic over the past year.  Nikhil writes about oppression from both a personal and professional perspective  He shares experiences as a non-black person of color, and he also works in a museum that contains materials from all over the world and whose acquisition dates from the colonial period.

I think the word “oppression” is a particularly hard one for us to think about in terms of museum practice.  Yet as nikhil points out, while we as individuals may be good people, working for the good of society, we work within systems that we have inherited but have not necessarily dismantled and disowned, and it is these systems that communicate messages of exclusion to people who have been objects of various forms of oppression over the centuries.

To read nikhil’s original thoughts on oppression, go to his Incluseum 2015 post.  Nikhil has just updated this post with some new thoughts and with useful resources.

If you are reading this post by email and wish to comment, please go to www.museumcommons.com, or send me a tweet @gretchjenn.  Nikhil can be reached @nikhiltri.

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