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Activating Diversity and Inclusion

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In their article Activating Diversity and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Museum Educators as Allies and Change Makers, museum professional Wendy Ng, artist, activist and scholar Syrus Marcus Ware, and museum professional and scholar Alyssa Greenberg explain that problematic power dynamics upholding disparities and white supremacy remain within institutions, despite ongoing efforts and diversity work in museums.

They also introduce guiding principles of allyship and practical strategies for enacting equitable relations in museum work.

They begin their piece by stating that our societies are built on white supremacy, which is the belief that white people are superior to all others and should therefore dominate society.

Recent events around the world have sparked new waves of anti-immigrant sentiments that have physically manifested in our societies, including museum spaces. These once infrequent events are now a daily occurrence. Ng, Ware and Greenberg state that the time for museum workers to put significant energy and effort toward allyship is now. According to them, this means:

“taking an unflinching, self-critical look at how museums relate to visitors across lines of privilege, and putting allyship into practice.”
Moreover, museums should not limit themselves to being institutions of social value, but instead should become institutions of social justice. In this important piece, the authors affirm that:
“this responsibility entails creating museum education experiences that are meaningful and relevant to all visitors, not only those who benefit from white supremacy and other forms of privilege.”

Reflecting on diversity from a critical perspective, they remark on the proliferation of diversity work in museums. The work often takes the form of community engagement, hiring initiatives, outreach, or programming targeted at a particular cultural community or demographic group. This type of diversity work is often understood as indicative of social good. However, the authors believe that this discourse frequently lacks criticality and rigour. They tell us that when these initiatives are examined more closely, they often reveal unseen and problematic power dynamics that uphold the status quo.

Informed by British-Australian scholar Sara Ahmed, who works at the intersection of feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory, and postcolonial theory, they also approach diversity as a contested site rather than an automatic social good. They remind us that diversity is not an outcome. Diversity and inclusion work can be shallow or tokenizing – with the potential to re-inscribe and perpetuate white supremacy and oppression, even if the intention is to challenge it. Therefore, they state that diversity should be seen as a means to an end, in which museums can be transformed into spaces where people from all backgrounds have agency and representation. This is when diversity work has the potential to become transformative.

References

Wendy Ng, Syrus Marcus Ware & Alyssa Greenberg (2017) Activating Diversity and Inclusion: A Blueprint for Museum Educators as Allies and Change Makers, Journal of Museum Education, 42:2, 142-154, DOI: 10.1080/10598650.2017.1306664

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