Why I picked it up: My heart stopped a bit when I came across this report, as the reference shared that a majority (55%) of white Americans believe discrimination against whites exists in America today. You read that right. Discrimination against whites. I'll be honest. I didn't really want to read this report because I was afraid the results would appall me. But if we don't look societal challenges in the eye, what hope is there for us? So I got a backbone and dug in.
What you need to know: There was a piece of good news in the survey (and when I say "good," I mean more grounded in reality): 84% of whites believe there is discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities in America today. Awareness is a good first step towards positive action.
But the rest. Oh. My.
First off, that 55% majority of white Americans who believe whites are discriminated against. Statistically speaking, whites who believe whites are discriminated against are more likely to be:
Additionally, those who believe that anti-white discrimination exists also are much more likely to say:
There were two more statistics that gave me pause:
Take a few minutes to let all of this sink in.
Did the sheer magnitude of our country's problems with race and ethnicity just become that much harder and more complex? Do you want to scream?
I don't want to disparage the challenges individual families of all races and ethnicities have, especially when resources are limited. But for whites to attribute any of those challenges to their whiteness I find mind-boggling, appalling, sad, and also humbling.
Humbling may seem an odd word choice, but I'm trying to articulate the massiveness of the challenge. And my sadness is more about how resource inequality (which includes wealth, income, education, etc.) is creating greater divisions and blame-casting to more obvious scapegoats, and not the privileged policymakers and corporations that actually are more responsible for the systemic problems challenging millions (including actual systemic racism and discrimination).
Implications for museums: If museums truly want to be inclusive then we clearly need to consider more than attracting and engaging a more inclusive audience. We also need to understand that inclusion may well be seen by some as exclusionary. Which, again, is mind-boggling to me, but a reality for many. Knowing this, however, makes our work harder (it is just more complicated), and also easier (we can better anticipate these challenges).
But I can't help but also ponder the role museums have had in all of this. We, in the aggregate, primarily share the work of great white artists, white scientists, and our audiences are primarily white and affluent (making us part of the cycle of income inequality). And then consider how history organizations, over the past 150 years or so, have made heroes of so many white men, putting slaveholders on pedestals (an obvious example). This isn't to say great work isn't taking place at some history organizations to share a more inclusive history now, but we have decades of sins to overcome.
Read or skip? Anyone doing inclusive work should review this (and since we all should be doing inclusive work, that means you). It is a reality check that our work in this area is going to be really hard, especially if the majority of whites in the broader population don't have a realistic view of their privilege.
Full citation: "Discrimination in America: Experiences and Views of White Americans." National Public Radio, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health. November 2017.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.