The Nation We Make Together (Part II)

For our two-part series “The Nation We Make Together,” Ravon and I are taking a longer look at issues that inspired us to start Brown Girls Museum Blog in the first place: questions of patriotism, marginal perspectives, and radical vulnerability all under the museum field umbrella. Our goal has always been to find our space in this industry, in these institutions, but that work cannot be done until we have made clear our positions relative to culture at large. If we don’t make it clear what we believe in, and how we struggle to reconcile our differences, the task of creating space will be impossible.

The first piece in this series began with a quote:

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” —James Baldwin

 

With it, Ravon argued rightly that criticism is an act of love, and that to be critical of the nation is to make yourself be a citizen of it. In the tradition of Baldwin, and in agreement with my co-blogger, I also insist on my right to critique. I would add that in addition to being an act of love and belonging, critique is an act of creation. Although it’s easy to think of criticism as a negation, simply tearing down something made by someone else, in its best form, critique creates new possibilities and offers a different view of the world and the object it’s aimed at.

When we think about criticism — of an artwork, of an institution, of a nation — as a kind of making, we open ourselves up to the opportunities of new perspectives. Instead of fearing criticism and its ability to destroy, we start to think about the mindset behind it, and what it might be like to live inside that perspective. For museums that silo the creations of artists, historians, and culture workers, making and criticism are deeply intertwined, and being aware of that connection will make the work we do all the more compassionate.

Continue…

The Nation We Make Together (Part I)

It has taken me two years to write this post. It is the reason this blog was created, but it wasn’t until recently that I found the words and the courage to write it, unapologetically. We’ve had a lot to contemplate, here at the blog, and we’re excited to finally share the conversations we’ve been having to hopefully, as always, inspire thoughtful consideration and critique of the field. In a two-part post (because we know how much you love those), Amanda and I explore what it means or what it could look like when we bring our vulnerabilities into “the institution.”

For me, it all begins with American history, the National Museum of American History (NMAH) to be exact. It is what made it so difficult to finally find the words. NMAH was the first museum to welcome me here in D.C. as an intern, to embrace me, and I learned so much in my time there. So this piece is written from place of love, gratitude and appreciation to the many who continue to guide me, and does not take aim to destroy but in hopes to rebuild, together.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” —James Baldwin

 

I am writing this after another verdict, during our country’s Independence Day celebrations, amidst our current political landscape. I am writing because until we come to terms with the psychological and emotional impacts of institutionalized racism on all of us, none of us are free.

Building Houses on National Memory

On a recent trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, I noticed their advertising for the now newly opened exhibition, “The Nation We Build Together.” I have not seen the exhibition since it’s opening June 28th, however I was struck by a few things during this last visit, that culminated in a number of anxieties exemplary of how whiteness constitutes national memory, and undergirds our institutions. On a banner above the south entrance, a collage of faces can be seen—across various ages, races, and eras. It is an obvious attempt at American patriotism, one that says despite our differences we’re all in this together. Among those faces was Emmett Till’s, a story that even in typing his name, it evokes imagery of his face that brings me to tears. See, the problem with national memory—that is fueled by nationalism in its very origins—is that not all of us can exist in it, not in our full humanity at least. Not everyone’s story will make it, in favor of a primary singular narrative.

I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend grad school, sure that my work would best be served in a museum-setting but as many young professionals not exactly sure how and in what ways. I was fortunate that a course my first semester granted me access to NMAH, as it was taught by a curator and held in the Museum once a week. It was my first real exposure to a museum on a national scale. One particular assignment from that course always stayed with me—we were tasked with observing an exhibit: What was the context for the exhibit? Who stopped at the exhibit? How were they discussing the exhibit? I chose the exhibit located on the main lobby floor of NMAH. I had never had the “National Museum” experience being from Chicago, and was fascinated to learn what the experience was like for audiences. It’s a small exhibit along the wall, that pays homage to 1960’s America through popular culture. I observed quickly, in a span of a few hours, that this case was overwhelmingly frequented by older white visitors and in a twist, white families. It was a moment of nostalgia for them to remember JFK, the Beatles, and a few major headlines. It was a moment that caused me to look around, and for the first time ask “where are we?,” as visitors and within the narrative.

The following spring, I interned at NMAH with a curator, who I continue to be grateful to today. She was sure to point my attention to the work that she did to secure certain stories existed within the Museum. It was also during this period that the blog was born.

 

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” —Zora Neale Hurston

 

Decolonize This Place

For people of color, it is at this intersection of feeling and reality, that we repeatedly learn that we are in an overwhelmingly white space. It is at these moments that we come to understand our existence through the prism of whiteness. In a book I am reading,—which I’m sure my Instagram followers are tired of seeing me post—The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture by Kevin Quashie, I am challenged to consider the capaciousness of black humanity that exists beyond equating black life with resistance. For Quashie, and I agree, “These assumptions are noticeable in the ways that blackness serves as an emblem of social ailment and progress.” (Quashie, p. 3) Although, Quashie specifically examines black being, I think aspects of his argument do apply to the collapsable nature of marginalized cultures, accessible only in the ways that they fold into and/or propel white narratives forward.

In NMAH, blackness is legible as a resource and marker of market capitalism that upholds progress in American life and history; a phantom of entrepreneurship and innovation.  In this way, we are left to understand blackness as a problem in either instance. Objects centralize the story, so things are made but we are never truly revealed as to by whom and how these things came to be; without these intersections objects are born out of a function not from people, not from labor, and are condensed into a singular narrative. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has a presence in the museum, an exhibition space there as a preview for its coming arrival in 2016, that now stands in for the existence of black life and resiliency secluded from American history despite its clear proximity.

The basis of Quashie’s argument is that blackness or “to be black” is defined through acts of resistance, as a result black subjectivity is restricted to the ways it contributes to public discourse through its expressions. Blackness is expected to and limited by what it can tell us about about race and racism, which is also evident in its absence in the museum. Quashie, therefore, argues for a reexamination of black existence that is attentive to black interiority, that is present as well alongside public acts of resistance. Quashie borrows this definition of interiority from Hortense Spillers (as he should), it is “the inner reservoir of thoughts, feelings of desires, fears, ambitions that shape a human self; it is both a space of wild selffullness, a kind of self-indulgence, and the ‘the locus at which self interrogation takes place.'” (Black, White, and in Color, p. 383 in Quashie, p. 21)

To consistently see ourselves as enslaved or as historical markers of segregation, for example, perpetuates our existence as only knowable in opposition to whiteness. However, Spillers’ point in regards to self interrogation is not only toward the institution but is also applicable to ourselves—the marginalized folk. Our presence has been obscured and erased from our cultural institutions for so long, and through years of trauma, that we’ve similarly come to understand ourselves in this opposition to whiteness. We don’t always recognize the toll this work of representation takes, or the ways by which we stop seeing ourselves for our full humanity in the process. Quashie pushes this argument further in a critique of Du Bois’ concept of “Double Consciousness”:

“In double consciousness, the twoness of black subjectivity does not represent another consciousness,  that is free and wild; instead, the twoness is a kind of pathology, a fractured consciousness that is overdetermined by a public language of black inferiority…In this characterization, agency is limited to resisting public discourse, and the black subject seems to possess no interior worth speaking of.”—Kevin Quashie

 

It is not enough that we find agency in our oppression. To decolonize the museum we must leave home. And for the institution, how then can museums offer pathways to selfhood for their visitors?

Leaving Home

Conceptualizing this post has been a slow realization for myself. I have stakes in keeping things the way they are, because this feels familiar—this feels normal. However, I’ve been challenged with confronting my own vulnerabilities, which until recent contemplation I was unaware of just how much I feel encouraged to protect the institution despite my work of inclusion. For communities of color, this work looks like us seeing each other and acknowledging the possibilities for social justice and equity in collaborative solidarity work. To do that, I’d have to accept the full range of your humanity that exists in the way that I would like for you to see me. For cultural institutions this looks like abandoning linear progress narratives that arc so as to always have a “happy ending,” or the inclusion of marginalized groups beyond that one particular holiday or specialized program. This self interrogation relieves whiteness, and therefore our institutions, of its perceived neutrality. Whiteness is not the basis of my existence.

This may seem simple or even obvious, but we underestimate the veil of security that nationalism and national memory affords us. Nationalism presents a clarity of self, whereas vulnerability is considered a liability to our survival. (Quashie, p. 77) But how do the stories we tell change the narrative when we consider the potential of our relationships to ourselves and one another in acknowledging our vulnerabilities? Could you see the expansiveness of my humanity? Seeing Emmett Till’s smiling face on a banner amidst other figures in history, knowing the ways in which the horrific events surrounding his life mobilized the Civil Rights Movement, was traumatic, and falls short of the thoughtfulness it’s meant to inspire when the institution fails to provide space for our humanity alongside these stories. In that brief encounter, we are meant to understand him as one destination in our nation’s story. As I mentioned, I have not seen the new exhibition since it opened and to be honest I don’t know if I will. I don’t know if my psyche can handle being jolted between slavery and civil rights narratives. However, here’s to hoping that we also exist somewhere in between.

Leaving home requires that we forego what we think we know—a sense of security wrapped into a tidy narrative. Our trauma is too great for that.

 

 

*All views expressed here are my own, and not the opinion of anyone else or institution.

Future of Museums II

Not long ago, Ravon weighed in on what she saw for the future of museums based on the activist and academic perspectives we have always brought to our work through this site. What she wrote about the need for museums to take on the role of coordinating and centering the wide-ranging activist efforts of their communities through the important work of making and providing space is something I completely agree with. This is exactly the kind of work we encourage institutions to do, and try to perform ourselves as well. Today I want to talk about this same work in a different direction: not just activism, museums should also be vector points for academic efforts too.

Continue…

Future of Museums I

The recent election. A new year. A blog two years in the making.

These are all the things that have us thinking about where to go next. We chose to write “Future of Museums” as a two-part post, to give insight from our individual perspectives as they are shaped by academia and museums, and so I look forward to Amanda’s post to follow. Year one was as much about you learning who we are in this field, as it was about us learning about ourselves. We established our voice as an invitation to our audiences to take space in their institutions and we continue to seek ways in which we can hold space for one another.

I remember when we began, what a shock it was for me to realize how many of us were actually in the trenches doing the work. So much of this became visible via Twitter, and later, Instagram. The digital has been a large part of our foundation and activism. The geography of who we are and what we can do has evolved to reflect the digital landscape. Part of our mission early on, was in how our platform can aid in being a bridge, lessening the excuse by institutions that we are “hard to find” and increasing the visibility of our collective missions.

In 2016, my inbox would indicate that our community of activists were amped and ready to do something to push the work of intersectionality and inclusion forward. However, as I was getting invited to do a number of things, I realized there was no synergy among these groups. Everyone was starting a new collective of this thing or another but again, we weren’t talking to each other. Much like my frustration with institutions, we were scrambling at threads rather than looking at the whole tapestry. Just as our approach to institutions entails an understanding of racism and oppression that is critical of white hegemony and colonialism; our activism too must be critical of the local and the global encroachment of anti-blackness. Otherwise we are digging a hole in the sand without the proper tools or foresight.

We must be more prudent and adamant in the coming years as the humanities and arts grow under threat. So this post is not only a call to action but a request. We want to work with you, collaborate with you, and brainstorm collectively. Let’s call on each other from this side of the pond to the other, to bridge our visions of community and intersectionality.

I envision a future of museums that is global in its pursuits for social justice.

 

 

(photo credit: @thebazaarbohemian via Instagram)

 

Last Words in Old Conversations: Redefining DC Art

As 2016 comes to a close, we inevitably find ourselves in a state of reflection––on the course of the year, the recent election, and looking toward the future.

We were honored to be invited to join a conversation hosted by ArtTable DC, State of Art 3, that would allow us to do this contemplation around the changing state of DC art. It is an event dedicated to sharing what those in the field are doing to support the arts or foresee as possibilities to sustain the art ecosystem, and we were excited to be listed alongside an array of creatives. It was a moment, on and off the stage, that both acknowledged the importance of such conversations and why we have to continue to have them.

State of Art requires speakers to put together a brief presentation of six minutes and forty seconds with twenty seconds per slide, a format known as PechaKucha style. It is an opportunity to spark dialogue among the speakers and the audience in order to further the ideas presented. Our presentation sought to showcase our approach to museums, their collections, and the exhaustion that brought us to this work.

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We intentionally selected excerpts from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric to illuminate these moments of racism, oppression and microaggression that occur repetitiously, often enacted through passive day-to-day occurrences. Texts were interwoven between the 15th century painting The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, and Misty Cropland photographed as Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer for Harpers Bazaar (Feb 2016). The imagery in relationship to Rankine’s eloquent words, provided an avenue into how we steer that frustration toward new interpretations of art in order to make room for other narratives and critical thought. In looking at Venus, how can we explore racial myths? How does Misty Copeland as the Little Dancer reveal or shift the narrative of the original subject of Degas’s work?

We expected it to be a lot for the audience to absorb in six minutes and forty seconds, especially if you are unfamiliar with our work, however we had faith that the two larger themes would marry.

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Of course not everyone was pleased, and resulted in this thread of tweets as an immediate release of my frustration:

 

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If the post-election has taught us anything (and oh, oh so much), we’ve uncovered the desire for order at the overwhelming expense (and silence) of others that is the project of oppressive systems, vested in whiteness. One older white woman frankly told me that we “should focus on the positive” as she turned to walk away, and another woman, in a backhanded compliment let me know our “talk didn’t work” in the style we chose and offered her help. *sigh*

These women aren’t one of a kind. But more importantly, despite being tired––and I’m tired ya’ll––they exemplify the reason why we have to disrupt in order to push forward, and create space for new conversations on art and equity. A statement I constantly make, and made a point to do so in this presentation:

Decolonizing the institution is difficult work, but that’s how you know you’re moving in the right direction.

The truth hurts, especially when it means you have to experience some discomfort. Our presentation was meant to startle, and maybe even make people feel uneasy, because inclusion and intersectionality happen when people are willing to give up their seat to make room for others at the table––and history tells us sometimes you have to bring your own chair.

Radical Acts of Self-Preservation

When I was invited to speak at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) for their Digital Dialogue series, I had previously been thinking more on the use of social and digital media platforms as sites of radical archiving, as alternatives pushing the bounds on traditional notions of archives. Here are some brief highlights from my talk:

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Traditional archives on marginalized groups are projects on omissions within the archive––not a new issue for understudied and underarchived histories. We have always had to ask: where can we find these stories and how can we fill the gaps when we seek to study or archive communities that are often isolated from time and space?

Archives have traditionally been relegated to institutional gatekeepers, limited by documentation sources, and perceived as presenting a unified history. Within a radical tradition, to consider the politics, function, and act of archiving, strive to reflect community, intersectionality, and acknowledge the power entrenched in the archive.

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Our blog obviously lives online through our site, which is one way we archive. However, I am particularly drawn to Instagram as not only an extension of our site, but also as an act of self-curation to express a radical politic.

From our inception we created an archive, tagging ourselves as brown, and in relationship to museums in a very particular way––”brown” encapsulating the institutions asserts a privilege that we brown folk are rarely afforded, preserving our voice in the caption (similar to a museum label), and increasing the flow of discourse between the institution, us, and our audience.

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If Brown Girls Museum Blog represents asserting the space in the archive, @YoungThugAsPaintings represents asserting the relationship within the archive–– to renegotiate the terms and their relationship to one another, how we think about our sources, and as a critical site of intersectional dialogue.

The student who created the Instagram profile remains anonymous, and gives no indication of what course or subject matter the page relates. As a result the archive created here becomes legible through many lenses, allowing us to engage via social media, art history, African American studies, etc. We are forced to rethink such terms as “thug” and “art” as they are put in dialogue. This archive reflects the simultaneous collision and divergence of narratives that is constant with the archive.

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We’ve seen music archives with record labels or a particular sub-segment of music, such as Folk. But what of a music archive that does not preserve a specific sound but reflects an identity. What does it mean to have Fetty Wap and Aretha Franklin in the same Archive?

Here, I zeroed in on two particular entities, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), a migratory institution, and the Black Art Incubator (BAI), a social sculpture created by Taylor Renee Aldridge, Jessica Lynne, Kim Drew, and Jessica Bell Brown.

These examples offered an opportunity to explore the significance, especially for institutions, on creating intimacy in the archive through engaging accessible spaces, and reconsiders the archival material to change the discourse. Here, music acts as an entry point to examine collective identity, race, history and more.

How else do we explain why President Obama almost broke the internet with his summer playlist?

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As we move to imagine the future of archives, we remember collections are not innocent, and they breed meaning. And if we are to truly do the work of inclusion and intersectionality within the archive, we must restructure and renegotiate across galleries, libraries, archives, and museums.

Additionally, I offer a resource page of sites and projects that influence how I think through radical archives such as The Very Black Project, Latina Rebels, Phila Print, Museum Hue, DocNow… These archives shift the narrative of who we understand as existing and as viable within and across our institutions.

To watch the talk in full, visit the MITH website here. Tweet us your thoughts @2brwngirls.

AAM: What’s the Feels?

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 11:14 AM
subject: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

Hey,

So now that we’ve had some time to decompress, evaluate, and re-evaluate. What was your take on AAM this year?  I’ll go ahead and say, that being that it was our first AAM experience both individually, and as BGMB, I had high expectations and excitement going forward. But I’ll let you start…

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 8:59 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

I had high expectations as well! Not only because it was our first AAM experience, but also because we had just attended the AAMD conference which was such a joy to be at.

The overall feeling I got from AAM was that we had already taken the BGMB mission of inclusion and community-building as far as it could go. I know logically that’s not true (gosh, sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how much work there is to do on these two things), but during AAM, it felt like everyone who was interested in our work, everyone who shared these goals, everyone who wanted to know more about our thoughts was someone we already knew.

Even though we did connect with a couple new faces, they were friends-of-friends in every case, so although they were new to us, their interest was not surprising. It felt like we should have known them way before, or like we didn’t really need AAM to connect us. Meanwhile, there was a whole conference going on around us of people who were just disinterested in or oblivious to the little network of people we were a part of.

Someone mentioned feeling like there were 2 AAMs, and by the end of the conference, I really felt that way too. I’ve been thinking since about whether or not my expectations for the conference were fair, really, since it was such a big event and it feels a little arrogant to expect people to care about the same things I do, but that feeling of being separate somehow from so many other attendees has really stayed with me.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 10:13 AM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

You’re right, AAMD was a different experience. I think there’s something to be said about the way art and art folks feel free to confront and dialogue, and cultural institutions and other spaces within the museum feel gridlocked to tell a certain truth. Like “that’s just the way it was [emphasis added].”

On the one hand, AAM is just huge and there’s no way around that, and that’s also not necessarily a bad thing. But, on the other, I also think resources—speakers, topics, institutions—could have been used better. Too many similarly themed topics occurred at the same time, to where I missed opportunities for really nuanced conversations elsewhere. “Diversity and inclusion” became a spectacle. And so if it had it in the title, it was chosen. Rather than allowing for the actual meaning of those words be part of larger discussions on labels, for example.

There were two AAMs—the haves and the have nots. The institutionalized and those knocking on the door. I need to work through what those feelings were exactly. Because, a challenge for me is allowing others space for revelation, HOWEVER, it is a constant struggle when your humanity is under attack daily. So patience is dwindling….

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 10:07 AM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

The “D & I” spectacle, you are totally right. It became about the checkmark, being able to say you did your requisite diversity and inclusion panel, along with your skill-building workshop and your keynote. I would have liked to have seen the theme of intersectionality (instead of “D &I”) included across the spectrum of all panels, rather than cordoned off to special-interest sessions, competing with other topics so that attendees have to choose which to go to.

Diversity doesn’t work when it’s an entity unto itself, it works when it is included as an element in everything we as museum professionals do, but that doesn’t seem to be the way people want to treat it, maybe because of the emphasis on history and tradition that comes with the museum field. I don’t want to totally deconstruct this industry and restart everything (just kidding, of course I do), but as a group we need to become more comfortable with institutional change. I think being at AAM, outside of the comfortable, supportive bubble of our colleagues, really made me see how stuck-in-their-ways a lot of this field really is.

“Haves” and “have nots” is a perfect way of putting this — some people are able to get enfranchised within the industry, whether because they can afford to take the unpaid internship or because they aren’t negotiating the imbedded white privilege of the field at all times. These two groups at AAM had a lot of difficulty communicating with each other, on topics of race and access, but also even the “simpler” things like emerging professional skills and how to get that first museum job. The “haves” so to speak were very interested in preserving the status-quo that had them on the inside, while the “have nots” (of which I count myself) were trying to explain why we were left out.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 1:43 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

I love that–– “diversity doesn’t work when it is an entity unto itself.” This is exactly where we find museums time and time again, lodged in this space. There’s still this feeling of the need to dip the toe in the water (i.e. panels) rather than diving in. Also we’ve talked about this before, and I know we are in agreement, about how empty the language of “diversity and inclusion” feels. Intersectionality, although often used without context, at least points to multiple directions of understanding one position.

There is this veil of progress that actually prevents the museum from moving forward. We could call that veil privilege, the kind that accompanies historically white institutions. This makes it easy to “see” why many initiatives are shortsighted or sometimes oblivious.

This also gets me to a larger issue I take with privilege, that I’ve come to understand, is that we contribute it to just basic human rights. Those shouldn’t be privileges. So why does it feel good, or is it a “have,” to not include others. But this might be a larger qualm I take up with Amurrica.

So lastly, because I know we could and will keep talking about this: what ONE moment or session sticks out in your mind that you wish could have been improved? What ONE moment or session provided a positive experience? And what could AAM do to continue building upon that positive experience?

Go!

 

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from: Amanda Figueroa
to: Ravon Ruffin
date: Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 12:18 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

So many of the things we are identifying here about AAM are just little microcosms of the larger problems at work in American culture, you are totally right. It’s been really challenging for me to try and figure out what is the specific problem at work in museum industry, and how can we solve that first, because as much as I wish I could do the work that would cure American institutionalized racism, that’s a much bigger fight than just one conference.

One moment that I wish had gone better was one of the major diversity-focused panels. I remember looking around the very large conference room, but seeing mostly the faces of people who I already knew, and who already understood the importance of this work. It was, of course, mostly people of color. This was the first time I think I truly realized what an echo chamber our current “D&I” conversation is — the people who show up to these things are the ones who already know the mission, and the people who need most to hear it just are not interested. It was a really discouraging moment for me.

But on the other hand, one moment that went really well was a panel on latinx audience targeting. It was a tiny session late in the afternoon, and perhaps because of the small turnout, the whole panel spoke really frankly on their experiences and the work they were doing to bring in diverse people to their museums. After the demoralizing experience of the large diversity panel, seeing that some people were managing on their own to do this work despite a real lack of support was really affirming for me. This is the kind of thing that I wish AAM could spotlight more often. We don’t need more big ideological panels on why diversity is important — at this point, everyone who is going to be convinced is convinced. We need more emphasis on what action people are already taking, regardless of sweeping change across the field.

 

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from: Ravon Ruffin
to: Amanda Figueroa
date: Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 3:08 PM
subject: Re: AAM: What’s the Feels?

 

Agreed––and I also connect with the two panels you point out for the reasons you describe.

I was particularly disappointed by the panel on labels. It felt odd to be at a national conference to reiterate that labels should not be a book on a wall and attempt to accommodate various reading levels. And, if I recall correctly, bi/multilingual text panels weren’t even discussed or if so, it was very minimal. Only one person, Porchia Moore, discussed the implications of text panels to uphold societal norms such as heteronormative familial structures, was the example she used. Otherwise, she seemed out of place.

I think both of the critiques we point out speaks to the lack of intersectionality as a through line of the conference. The discussion on text panels could have been a really rich moment for people who might not have signed up for “D&I” panels to be in the room or for examples of “D&I” in action.

The panel titled “We Are Not Hard to Find” to discuss minorities in the workforce, and the panel on “community museums” were most impactful for me. The first was a really great moment to discuss what professionals in the field are doing to create pipelines for minorities and emerging professionals in the field. Unfortunately, it was already those I knew and loved in the field but it had a great and captive audience that ended with reps shouting out job openings, and created a space to connect. The second, was eye-opening on a personal level as I was especially moved to hear how smaller museums are typically on the frontlines for their communities. And even more so, got me to consider how larger institutions could take a lesson from them. Similarly, this was a panel that was lightly attended.

I’m going to put the onus on AAM conference committee, and their selection process. I find it hard to believe that creative panels, from various perspectives, weren’t submitted that would have contributed to a lot of what was lacking in terms of intersectional practices. There is potential for a proposal with “diversity” in the title to be less effective than a panel featuring folks from community museums discussing gentrification, community engagement, and intersectional exhibitions.

 

If you attended the conference or have thoughts, comment below or on the internets (@2brwngirls).

The Language of Diversity and Inclusion (Part 2)

Words have always been important to me — there was no question that language was going to be central to the message Ravon and I wanted to communicate during our chance to speak at AAMD. While Ravon’s talk focused on putting an end to tired vocabulary like “diversity” and “inclusion,” I spoke about possible alternative language that could get at intersectionality without sacrificing specificity. To keep that sense of community present, I turned to the realm of geography.

Continue…

The Language of Diversity and Inclusion (Part 1)

Amanda and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to speak at the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) conference in Cleveland this month. We were invited as part of a young thought leaders session on diversity and inclusion. Our presentations were a moment to think through the language of diversity, and how we foresee the move toward intersectionality in the field.

I’ve been working through my own frustration with the over-saturation of the terms ‘diversity and inclusion’, intersectionality, and community that are often without the depth of meaning that allow for us to put them into real action.

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Diversity

From its inception has been overly relied upon to do the work of changing our perceptions and the place of people of color within our institutions. A textbook dictionary definition of the root word diverse states, “showing a great deal of variety; very different.” ‘Diversity’ initiatives in this way are shortsighted. The cliche of diversity becomes a burden on people of color that only requires the appearance of change. (i.e. the diversity committee, comprised of all the folks that are “diverse,” diversity does not mean black and brown people, etc.)

 

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Intersectionality

The problem with diversity is it’s uncomfortable, and not in the way doing the work of shifting our paradigms for ‘diversity and inclusion’ initiatives should be. ‘Intersectionality’, as it has been taken up, has become a way to bundle up difference with a bow. Kimberlé Crenshaw, legal scholar, gave us this term in her critical essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” in 1989. Knowing the disciplinary origin of this term is important because intersectionality has always been about systems of power and privilege that are enforced upon particular persons in our society. (i.e. doing the work of inclusion should be difficult. If it isn’t, you’re doing it wrong.)

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Community

But as language travels so does meaning, and instead we’ve settled on a definition that sanitizes difference so to not have to critically examine the consequences of power on those differences. Diversity in this ways does not inquire into how to deal with difference but contains it. If we, in museums, are to do the work of intersectionality, we must examine our privilege and power; and it starts with putting meaning into practice. It is how we come to find and know our community.

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It is easy to settle for the community that looks like you, and that you can assume you know; rather than to ask the questions that would cause you to confront your own ignorance. Communities are ever changing, and for that we should never settle.

(Thank you again to AAMD for having us for their centennial conference convening.)