ERIC Number: EJ1148212
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017
Deconstructing Systems of Bias in the Museum Field Using Critical Race Theory
Adams, Melanie A.
Journal of Museum Education, v42 n3 p290-295 2017
With today's fast-paced, ever-changing cultural, political, and social landscape, museums are in a unique position to provide visitors with the opportunity to connect and reflect on the world around them. From issues of social justice to immigration to reproductive rights, communities across the country are seeking spaces that allow and encourage them to have challenging conversations. Museums need to embrace this new role. While working on her dissertation, author Melanie Adams encountered critical race theory (CRT). Through the use of CRT, she discovered a language and a framework that addressed the racial realities of her world as a person of color. As her work in museums became more centered on issues of race, she began looking at how she could use the tenets of CRT to create programs that challenge rather than reinforce the racial status quo. When applied to the education field, CRT examines how African-American students experience and respond to their educational environment. This article describes how the author applied CRT in a way that allows examination of museum practices and programs in regard to race and inclusivity. The purpose of CRT in this instance is not only to recognize racism but to bring it to light for others to see, whether they do something about it or not. Adams describes the tenets of CRT and states here that while knowing them is a good start, they have to be reframed in ways that allow them to be useful in everyday work in museums. To this end, Adams created questions based on each tenet of CRT that can be used to determine if a program is challenging or reinforcing the racial norm. Since one size does not fit all, she believes it is important for museum staff to know their communities and when and how to ask the questions that will move them toward a more racially aware and inclusive organization. In terms of work in museums, one question related to the permanence of racism is: how do museums create experiences that dismantle racism instead of merely putting it on display? Four tenets are offered that Adams believes can guide the work of museums to: (1) Create experiences that dismantel racism rather that merely displaying it; (2) Encourage diverse narratives that benefit people of color; (3) Move away from narratives as told through the eyes of the oppressor; and (4) Allow artists of color to question the dominant narrative and remain in the conversation. By considering these tenets with each new program or exhibit, museums can move from reacting to cultural missteps to intentional actions that lead to positive community change.
Descriptors: Museums, Race, Critical Theory, Educational Environment, African American Students, Guidelines, Program Development, Teaching Methods, Racial Differences, Racial Bias, Power Structure, Minority Groups, Artists, Community Change
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
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