Inclusivity and diversity in our galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) has been a running discussion for quite some time. But where are we up to in Australia? What’s happening and what can we do to add to this discussion to make tangible and visible change?[i] Why is this even important some people may ask.
As someone who has a diverse cultural background and identifies as a person of colour, or POC, (though can pass as white, you can read a bit more about my personal cultural background in a blogpost published last year) being able to see people like me represented in the GLAM world – as both practitioner, advocate and in exhibitions/publications – is important. For generations past, present and future, representation in our cultural institutions means we can have a voice heard, acknowledge our place as contributing members in society (and in Australia, we are a multicultural society) and combat discrimination and promote inclusivity[ii].
Ask questions. Why do things have to be the same way? Can we change things? How can we change things? What can we be doing better? What am I doing that is helping or hindering change and advocacy? Whose voices are being heard or silenced? Are we even self-aware of these issues in our GLAM organisations? Is this being taught in relevant University courses to equip a future generation of GLAM practitioners? Do I have the same experience as other people – where does my understanding of intersectionality come in?
In asking these questions, it can feel like answers may not be easy to get or it’s too challenging to start doing something now. So what can we realistically and practically do as POC and their allies when we feel overwhelmed with trying to instigate institutional change and diversity in the organisations we work? Well, for the first thing (and as naff as it may sound) I recommend practicing self-care. Give yourself permission to disengage from situations for a while that may be building to stress. Take the time to look after yourself and remember that you can re-engage with the issues and tasks you’re striving towards when you’re feeling better equipped – you’re not giving up, but you do need to recharge. Remind yourself that the work that you’re doing is meaningful despite whatever challenges you may face. This goes for allies too!
Advocate for your colleagues of colour, but this doesn’t mean speaking for them or over them.
As allies it can be difficult to feel like you’re engaging in meaningful ways with topics that can potentially create discord or division in your workplace. But your support for your colleagues of colour is meaningful – personally and professionally. Don’t be afraid to have honest and open (but respectful) discussions with your colleagues about issues such as these – advocacy comes in many ways and having these discussions can bring up questions that people might be too afraid to normally ask. Advocate for your colleagues of colour, but this doesn’t mean speaking for them or over them. Ask your POC colleagues what they need and want in terms of support – everyone is different and its best to actually ask what might be needed then to assume.
If you are able to, get involved. If you have a professional governing body (for example Museums and Galleries Australia), get in touch – find out if they have a diversity plan and if not, why not? What can we do to get something like this on their agenda? Does your own cultural institution have a diversity plan?
For both POC and their allies, change can happen (and is!), but this can be a slow process. This is frustrating, but remember that it can happen. What you can bring to the table is valuable to this process and making sure that it continues to move forward.
Most of all remember. Remember that as isolated, as alone, as angry and as frustrated you may feel at times, you are not alone in trying to affect change and you are not alone in feeling these ways.
I’m all about Handy resources you can actually use! So here are some resources that I found useful and interesting personally and professionally:
Earlier this year, a paper on addressing systemic racism in museums came out. It was authored by American multi-racial museum practitioners who came together in a forum in 2016; it provides some great background and practical (and realistically implemented) steps for POC and non-POC in museums. You can read it here. Further outcomes from the forum and engagement are available at this site.
Last year, Savonne Anderson at Mashable released a great article on practical steps non-POC can do to combat marginalisation. It’s available here.
The Empathetic Museum is a great resource – share it far and wide! It discusses how empathy can be a powerful tool and implemented in museums. It has a Maturity Model where you can assess the level of empathetic engagement within and outwards from an institution.
I also highly recommend Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 which goes into much more depth and comprehension about some of the issues touched on in this month’s Kulture Kid Digest issue.
[i] A great body of work on this has been done by Karen Schamberger for her PhD on the challenges and approach a curator of colour can implement – she’s also contributed to this month’s issue – go check it out!
[ii] It’s important to note that while culturally and ethnically diverse Australians can experience some of the same challenges as Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the First Peoples of Australia – and these are two important discussions and areas of representation and voice that overlap, but need to be distinctly addressed within the GLAM world.