The recent murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police is one of the latest examples of the devastating state-sanctioned violence against Black people in the United States. George Floyd joins the many lives destroyed by the systemic anti-Black racism that has plagued this country since its very inception — from the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Sandra Bland and countless others by law enforcement, to the atrocities of Jim Crow era segregation, to our shameful history of chattel slavery. As we struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted Black communities in particular, we mourn these senseless deaths and stand with everyone who has risen up and spoken out to combat anti-Blackness.
As a museum, we struggle to find an appropriately robust response to the horrific reality of a society structured around white supremacy. The fact is that art museums have not done enough. We as an institution have not done enough. We must take action and become the change we wish to see in the world. With more urgency than ever, we must commit ourselves as partners and allies towards achieving racial justice.
As a first step, we must start by looking within ourselves. If we pride ourselves as guardians of a historical art collection, we must contend with the very history of how our museum came to be. Avery Brundage, whose collection forms the nucleus of this institution, espoused racist and anti-Semitic views. We have removed his name from museum initiatives but have yet to address this history in a fully open and transparent way. Only by publicly condemning Brundage’s racism and examining the foundation of our museum can we become an even greater source of healing and connection.
Addressing this history is only a modest beginning. We must ensure that anti-racist measures are foundational to all museum work and processes, and to the experience of every visitor. The anti-Asian prejudice catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic showed us why our goal to create visibility for underrepresented artists and communities is critical to combatting racism. The events of this past week remind us yet again why the Black Lives Matter movement is imperative. Our museum is still learning how we can nurture the kind of intersectionality that allies us to larger movements and promote change from within our own institution. Overall, we must continue to make DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion) an institutional priority.
Most importantly, we must listen intently, empathically, and proactively to Black voices and perspectives. We must learn from our museum colleagues across the country and world who devote themselves to telling the stories of Black Lives as well as excellent resources such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s “Talking About Race” web portal. We must engage our communities for guidance, insight, and partnership, and welcome all comments, suggestions, and criticisms. In this way, we can evolve into a museum that is truly for all.
In solidarity and justice,
Jay Xu, Ph.D.
Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO