Why I picked it up: I've been exploring the attitudes and behaviors of museum-goers and the broader population around how history museum present a more inclusive history. Thus, examining related studies are important for me to understand my research contextually (and to extend the findings to other types of museums seeking to be more inclusive in their interpretations and practices).
What you need to know: African Americans and whites differ widely in their perceptions of how much progress has been made for civil rights in the past 50 years. Unsurprisingly, whites have a more positive perception, while African Americans have a less positive, but arguably more accurate, assessment of progress.
The issue brief includes three things that the authors feel are the key takeaways:
Additionally, only 52% of whites say that they have an advantage based on their race, and only 44% of whites think African Americans are disadvantaged. This correlates with other research out of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and genFORWARD that finds about half of whites think discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against people of color.
Implications for museums: The finding that troubled me as well (though didn't surprise me) is that only 18% of African Americans feel they are treated the same as whites in their community while nearly 4x as many whites (64%) think the races are treated the same. Those are some staggering differences that certainly have implications for our communities, but also for museums, our practices, and our interpretations. African Americans that live in mixed-race communities, however, are significantly more likely to say they are treated equally (34% - still not great, but better).
This is pretty interesting for museums. If we are preserving and sharing a primarily white culture, art, and history, and hiring primarily white individuals, it is fair for African Americans to say they are not being treated equally by museums. But when culture, art, and history are presented through a mixed-race/multi-cultural lens, this finding implies that the response would mirror that of African Americans living in mixed-race communities … that museums are more inclusive places in interpretation and practice. We all know, however, that our field has work to do … and perhaps we should consider not only how to be more inclusive, but also how we can more effectively reach whites in ways that changes their perceptions to more realistic, less privileged ones.
Read or skip? Pretty much what I said about the other studies on racial attitudes. 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.
Methodology comment: NORC at the University of Chicago does great work, but I would have liked to see a slightly larger sample of African Americans for stability. Additionally, most sampling work isn't really representative, and some samples have larger "blind spots" than others. This survey had only a cumulative response rate of 6.4%, and even though they sampled broadly to get large-enough numbers, it is unlikely that this sample (or most others, including the broader samples I field) is truly a representative sample of the broader population. (You can learn more about blind spots here.)
Full citation: "50 Years After Martin Luther King's Assassination: Assessing Progress of the Civil Rights Movement." NORC at the University of Chicago. March 2018.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.
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I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the lands of the Duwamish people, whose ancestors have lived here for generations. I thank them for their ongoing care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.