The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis is shocking. The subsequent protests, the explosion of pain, indignation and rage in America and across the world, have brought home how deep the experience of racism is for so many in our societies.
The British Museum stands in solidarity with the British Black community, with the African American community, with the Black community throughout the world. We are aligned with the spirit and soul of Black Lives Matter everywhere.
We stand with everyone who is denied equal rights and protection from violence in the fullest sense of these terms. These are challenges that we as a society must address, injustices that must be overcome.
The death of George Floyd and of many others must sharpen our awareness of how much more we as a major public cultural institution need to do in the fight against inequality and discrimination. We need to embrace the fact that diversity of background, thought, ability and skills are essential for the success of our Museum. And for the heritage sector as a whole.
Inclusion and diversity are at the heart of our values. We will put our best efforts into making them a reality. We will work to diversify our own staff, listening to conversations such as those at last year’s National Programme conference, held at the Museum, which explored equality and diversity in UK museums. We will broaden the diversity of voices present in the interpretation of objects in the collection – we’re currently learning a lot from our collaboration in Manchester Museum’s new South Asia gallery project which is driven by community co-curation. We will continue to research, acknowledge and address the colonial history of Britain and its impact on our institution in exhibitions like Collecting Histories and Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific perspectives from 2019. But there is much more to do. In all this we will need to draw on the support of our many long-standing partnerships – with community organisations in our home borough of Camden and beyond, and museums in this country and across all continents. We will move forward together with them as we listen, learn, and act.
And, though it will take time to realise, the Museum’s developing masterplan project provides a unique generational opportunity to reconsider, rethink and rebalance the display of the collection, introducing greater diversity of collections on display, expanding museum narratives. And above all, involving multiple voices.
In the midst of this debate, the extraordinary breadth and depth of the collection continues to challenge us to discover our common human past. We must reach out beyond what we already know. We must believe that we can enlarge our sense of ourselves as individuals and as communities.
Shortly before lockdown, the Museum started a series of public debates on the ‘Era of Reclamation’ led by former Deputy Chair of the Museum’s Trustees, Bonnie Greer. As Bonnie remarks in a blog she published to accompany the series:
Here, inside the British Museum, a theatre of human connection, reclamation can find the seeds that can begin the process of an even deeper, more profound engagement. We need now to see and know that we are the same species, with the same stories. And that we have always been in search of what we ultimately are seeking to reclaim: ourselves
Bonnie has also written a blog reflecting on current events which can be seen here.
Working with partners and listening to both friends and critics, I hope that we will find the right ways to allow the Museum to better reflect our societies and our complex, contentious and blended histories, and become more than ever a theatre of human connection.