The Labour of Race

Dear Museums,

I see your efforts to reach out, to try to make a difference and that you are trying to do good not harm. I understand your pain, your fragility, your defensiveness when I explain the harm you have caused. That what you do is not enough and that things are still not right.

I know this makes you uncomfortable, asking you to rise up and do better, to interrogate your beliefs and biases. If you want to really understand why we are still talking about diversifying museum audiences and the museum workforce (not just in terms of race), then it is down to you to do the work, to take the social burden of upholding the values you claim to have. That museums are fair, change lives for the better and are open to all.

This short survey was carried out to help Museum Detox gain further insight and to share with the sector what it is like being a BAME museum worker. The experiences shared in this report through the survey are typical of people across our network, who for the specific focus of the survey could not take part. What it also highlights is the progress made in some organisations in how it has included and promoted BAME museum staff. There is incredible resilience demonstrated by BAME museum staff in order for them to get on with their job. Survive or thrive, the emotional labour costs are still too high.

I have thought about my own emotional labour costs, reading responses from the survey gave some of my feelings about working in the museum sector affirmation that it is the lived experience of many workers across the sector. The integrity of my work deeply concerns me when I work to connect museums with diverse audiences. When I build up trusts and ask to be educated I am asking for the emotional labour of people who may not benefit or have very little benefit from working with me and my organisation if we don’t take a step back and acknowledge our power and privilege.

At Culture Coventry Trust we like many other museums are striving to diversify our audiences. We have a strategic plan to embed processes that address the equality diversity and inclusion vision we have. It requires an openness that perhaps we as a museum sector can be too vulnerable to meaningfully engage with and to recognise that this is an on-going and life-long commitment that includes sustained engagement, humility, and education.

So dear museums, I know you are trying but please try harder, dig deeper, look inwards as well as outwards and don’t give up on what you believe in, like I have not given up on you.

Thanh Sinden

Strategic Audience Development Manager, Culture Coventry

Thanh champions and supports culture change and organisational development to create and capture value that is of relevance in a changing world of cultural consumption. She works to create an inclusive culture where diversity thrives, and equality and inclusion are rooted in its core purpose to maximize the museums’ social impact by being inclusive spaces.


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