Diversity in Museums: a Follow-Up

Are the privileged—including myself—ready to look in that mirror? My post last week on diversity got a lot of positive responses, but I'm more grateful for the ones which pointed out mistakes and implications in what I wrote.

Are the privileged ready to look in that mirror?

My post last week, What We in Museums Talk about When We Talk about Diversity, has received the most views and led to the most discussion of any that I've written since this blog started in January. (Text and the Future of Museum Content from back in May had been my most widely-read post until now.)

The responses were mostly positive. Everyone seems to agree that we who work in museums need to put our hiring and staffing money where our diversity mouth is—currently, mostly talking about audiences, with internships second. The next level will involve improving hiring, advancement, and retention practices and workplace environments so that the next Mellon report will have better news.

Until then, the feet of privilege needs to be held to the fire. One twitter conversation in particular pointed out that in the original version of my piece I described two race-and-intersectionality-themed events which took place concurrently with the Alliance of American Museums annual conference in DC as being parts of the AAM conference. I could trot out the boilerplate "I didn't intend to imply … ," but that's not the point: I automatically assumed that a couple of non-white-focused events were part of a larger white-run narrative. I've corrected the above error, but left some other unfortunate implications (from the way that quotes and links are located near each other) as is, a record of how far I still have to go on this subject.

It's true that whites in the museum field have to confront racism in their institutions. But whites shouldn't do this just to be nice to other races—anyway, diversity is more than just about race, and this can lead whites to mistake diversity as being separate from quality—as this puts the onus of the fight on non-whites. People in privilege should fight the privileges that benefit them, because privilege over others is wrong and deforms humanity and leads to suffering the world over.

Relentless self-examination is part and parcel of what should have brought us into the museum field in the first place, and it goes along with the the desire to examine history as expressed in human achievement, to learn and improve from it, and to share that knowledge with as many people as possible. If people who self-identify as nice liberals stop this self-reflection, everyone loses, especially colleagues and audiences who may not share in this privilege.

Thank you to those who read the post and those who commented, especially those who questioned and challenged me. I'll have a new post about museums and staff digital literacy up next week, but I will never "move on" from this topic.