The "intersectionality" of culture and privilege.
As vaccines roll out and the world slowly starts to imagine safely returning to some of the things we've missed, it seems like a good time to share this throwback post from Dann that he wrote in June of 2017. It's especially for anyone who is missing museums, and/or for anyone wanting to see museums do better.
I used to think of things in terms of a Venn diagram. It’s really the perfect format to explain things that are somewhat if not mostly different, but share a few traits. They have a handful of things in common. It’s a curious phonological experiment to think of the word “intersectionality” in the form of a huge multi-faceted Venn diagram. And it’s this word that got me thinking the other day, while I was sitting in the Museum of Fine Arts.
I don’t think I – at least physically – fit in. I was sitting at the café in the middle of a huge gorgeous open space in my jeans and radio station t shirt, my hair pretty messy, my tattoos out in the open for all to see. The demographic I saw – and, granted, this WAS noon on a Monday – was made up of older people, 97+% of whom were white, most dressed up in what might pass in other circumstances as their “Sunday Best.” And I got to thinking about the Venn diagram of “culture” and “privilege.”
Was what I was doing a “white” thing? Was it an “affluent” thing? Was it a “cultured” thing? What does “cultured” even mean? Why were the only people of color I saw the ones bringing the goat cheese salads and prosecco martinis to the tables? What was my role in all of this? Was I implicit in racism/classism/colonialism by even being here?
This is a very complicated question with a very complicated answer. I’m not asking for anyone to assuage my issues with this. I’m not asking for anyone to get angry at the museum organization itself. What I am asking is if anyone has any ideas how something like a museum can work towards more inclusion. Not adding more art from the Kingdom of Benin “inclusion,” but maybe outreach to communities in and around cities to encourage kids to understand and express the beauty of their art “inclusion.” Not “look at the nobility of the savage in the art of X, Y, or Z” inclusion at all, but more of the “this culture was thriving and shouldn’t be fetishized by this artist” inclusion.
I don’t know. Maybe I have more problems than solutions to this one. Will I still go to the museum? Yes. I want my children to see things that are creative and expressive and I want them to say, “I’d like to do that.” And I will also have a conversation with them about certain art and how it was “gotten” and maybe, just maybe, they can have a different Venn diagram about art and culture and privilege than I am struggling with.
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Stand with the Roma community: tell Northern State University to honor their original decision to rename their "G**sy Day Parade" by leaving a comment on this post. (Shoutout to our amazing friend Victoria Rios for this call to action.)