The Museums Association (MA) is among a number of stakeholders to call for "real change" in how the museum and heritage sector addresses racism, as Black Lives Matter protests grow in the US following the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a police officer in Minneapolis.
In a statement today, the association said: “The MA stands with all people of colour in the fight against racial injustice and inequality. The recent killing of George Floyd highlights the need for real change in how we address racism and diversity as a society and in our museums.
“We acknowledge that museums have an important role to play in recognising and challenging historic oppression and that our collections, knowledge, independence and ethics can be used to highlight the issues that matter to our communities and wider audiences.
“The MA’s vision is for inclusive, participatory and sustainable museums at the heart of our communities. We believe that museums can make a significant contribution to public conversations on contemporary issues such as decolonisation, inequality and racism. We also believe that museums have a responsibility to support the workforce within our organisations and creating space for the lived experience of our colleagues.
“Museums have a critical role to play in building a society that is diverse, inclusive, tolerant and respectful and the MA will continue to support them to do that.
“‘Somebody has to stand when others are sitting. Somebody has to speak when others are quiet.’ – Bryan Stevenson, founder, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.”
Arike Oke, director of the Black Cultural Archives in south London, has called on museum and heritage stakeholders to pledge to take "collective anti-racism action".
A joint statement by heritage bodies, which the MA has committed to sign, is due to be published shortly. “We need to change,” Oke told Museums Journal. “We need to think about anti-racism in everything we do.
“Those of you who are black, or have black colleagues, will know that the events of the past few week are taking an heavy toll mentally, physically, emotionally. On top of the weight of the pandemic. On top of the weight of Covid-19 affecting black communities more heavily than others.
“The weight is heavy because it’s the weight of history, of decades and longer of systemic racism and bias, of micro-aggressions, of not being believed, of our experience being minimised, of seeing black people die in police custody without enquiries being made. Of 40 years since the uprisings in Bristol, Birmingham, Brixton. Of 101 years since the 1919 ‘race riots’. Of 27 years since Stephen Lawrence’s murder.”
Oke asked organisations across the sector to add their voice to the commitment. “BCA is the home of Black British history – our research collections are unique and so is our voice, but we don’t want to be alone in speaking out and calling for a change,” she said.
“Could we, as the sector which holds our nation’s heritage, please take leadership in making a stand in solidarity together – archives and museums, workforce and leadership, to commit to being actively anti-racist (not just diverse and inclusive)?”
Oke’s call to action was echoed by the Museum Detox network, which represents people in the museum and gallery sectors who identify as of colour. The network tweeted: “Silence is an act of violence. If organisations cannot publicly declare that #BlackLivesMatter, they are complicit.
"Each have a responsibility to the Black community who visit, who are employed and whose culture is on display in these buildings. Now is the time to be anti-racist.”