Today’s blogpost is a passionate statement of solidarity from one museum worker to their colleagues and co-conspirators in the field, those who, by their presence and actions are seeking to radically shift and open museums up to new possibilities. This is a statement that speaks “truth to power”. This is a statement of support, encouragement, and love. The author has chosen to remain anonymous to protect their identity from their current, affiliated institution and to present this message of solidarity to colleagues across contexts, not tied to any one specific person, or museum.
I am the person sitting next to you in the office also committed to this work of transforming museums.
These strange, archaic, calcified monuments; one of the most perverse, obscene, and sustained remaining strongholds of White Supremacy and colonial oppression in the world.
To my colleagues and co-conspirators, these are things I want you to hear.
These are things I wish someone would say to me.
To museum workers of beauty, truth, and fire. Of love and light.
To those who may identify as Persons of Color, Native/Indigenous, Women, LGBTQIA+, Non-Binary, Non-Conforming, Persons with disabilities visible and invisible, immigrants, DREAMers, undocumented, refugees…
And to those who resist and refuse this silly, narrow-minded, intolerant world’s way of reducing your humanity into a category.
To those seeking to indigenize, decolonize, radicalize, revolutionize, democratize… all ultimately to humanize.
Under a system of global white supremacy, museums and many people who work in them have a tendency to collapse oppression into a black and white binary, or into an aggregate conflation of POC politics. Even those of us seeking justice and liberation are guilty of this. We may gesturally encourage solidarity across differences but how often do we acknowledge, seek to understand, and celebrate the infinite complexity amongst ourselves as a daily, lived practice?
We need collective power to dismantle White Supremacy, but one that is self-aware of the need to always embrace identities and ways of being different from our own. Especially because a strategy of White Supremacy is to separate, weaponize, and pit “races” against each other. As we work towards collective liberation we need to resist these sinister forces in order to come together and bridge across communities. How can we challenge ourselves, and each other, to be better everyday at modeling and leading from a place of truly inclusive, intersectional organizing and building coalitions of solidarity?
I am sorry to say that museums are not yet safe spaces for you.
They are hostile, aggressive, violent institutions.
They are self-forgiving and self-justifying and as much as they want to believe they are getting better, it is still not a space you can thrive as your full self.
But that does not mean that these spaces are not meant for you.
You are not your museum.
They do not own you. The contract you signed does not justify the oppression they impose.
The ignorance and mediocrity of your surroundings does not reflect you or your potential.
It is vital we resist the tactics of misrepresentation, silencing, shaming, marginalization, devaluing, and erasure forced upon our minds and bodies daily. If you find yourself having internalized or believing any of these schemes, snap out of it because it’s not true. Or surround yourself with loved ones who will help you recalibrate.
You are better than this place. They are unworthy of your presence. It is their honor and privilege to have you.
Know that this is yours if you want it. But only if. You are not stuck. They need you but you do not need them.
If you are rooted in passion and commitment to art, community, beauty, truth, storytelling, and dismantling oppression, then know that there are other spaces and other ways for you to do this much-needed work.
In some cases, longevity means leaving. Leave for a while. Come back. Or don’t. Protect you.
Be vigilant in making sure your self-care encompasses self-love and compassion for yourself. Most things in this world are already trying to kill and eliminate you. The last thing you need to be doing is adding your own efforts to their cause.
If you are sick from being in museums–physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually–you need to heal. You need to listen to your mind, body, and heart and prioritize yourself and your health. Health and healthcare looks different for everyone. Listen to yourself and your needs. You are having a totally understandable, visceral reaction to the poison in your immediate environment. Don’t feel weak for getting sick. It will take a lifetime of adaptation to develop resilience to these spaces. Your colleagues around you may not be risking their lives for this work but for some of us we know these issues are matters of life and death. We need to learn to prioritize our own wellbeing, no one else will.
The climate in museums is tense and toxic. As much as white people would like to think the hate and venom is spewed from a select few, the backlash of censorship, policing, silencing, erasing, and firing is ubiquitous. We see white colleagues and museum monarchy aka “leadership” acting out of a place of fear, insecurity, and scarcity, hoarding power and reigning it over our heads. Being all the more unreasonable, tightening their grip, giving less space, making less room – all the while hosting conversations and workshops with the public about the value of social justice in the arts. It is also an unfortunate reality that many non-whites are entrenched in institutional systems and routines, standing in the way of radical change. Sometimes this makes it all the more heartbreaking.
I know it feels like things keep getting worse. But I’ve come to realize that this is a good thing. They can feel our growing presence, our strength, and our power. It makes them nervous, it makes them fearful. Whiteness and White Supremacy exist and evolve to secure the safety and comfort of a specific yet arbitrary “type” of people. Most white people want to be part of the movement, part of the radical liberation, if they can feel comfortable participating. If they still feel centered. When some of them realize that this new world-vision decenters them, decentralizes them, and doesn’t keep them in a place of sole power and privilege, they tighten their grip. They threaten and make unnecessary, childish power plays to maintain their supremacy and hoarded possessiveness over people, objects, and stolen land.
And you know what? They should be scared. Anyone continuing to cling to their unearned privilege of comfort, safety, and happiness at the expense of other humans should be worried. Any attempts to stifle, remove, deny, omit, and exclude us are futile.
We are only on the verge of becoming.
You are not doing this work alone
I see you. I value you.
Your voice is necessary
Your experience matters
Your body is beautiful
Your mind and your ideas and your dreams will change the world
Your spirit carries the fire of revolutions
You matter infinitely
You don’t know who I am, or where I am, but I am with you.
And there are many more. We are here. Always. And we are here for you.
Know that we are in your midst, and amongst you.
And we will not be stopped.
In peace, love, and solidarity.