Professor calls museums racist: Built to ‘justify’ empire, colonization marginalization
PBS Newshour previously interviewed a climate change activist on 'environmental racism'
Sociology professor Tukufu Zuberi claimed on "PBS Newshour" Wednesday that museums are foundationally racist because they were built to "justify" empire, colonization and marginalization.
Zuberi currently curates the redesigned Africa Galleries at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, or Penn Museum, where he seeks to "transform the narrative" of museums and their connection to African history.
"How do we take that activated conversation and transform the narrative in here?" Zuberi asked. "Seize this moment to transform the museum, the narratives in the museum and the service we can provide to the community about the national narrative, about the international narrative, about the narrative of humanity."
The documentary filmmaker and former co-host of PBS's "History Detectives" insisted to reporter Jeffery Brown that his top priority is removing the racial bias that is "the foundation of museums everywhere."
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"If we‘re going to tell the story of human civilization, we must reconfigure these spaces to speak to various audiences in ways that remove the race bias and prejudice, which are the foundation of museums everywhere. These museums were [made] to justify empire, they were to justify the colonization, the marginalization of certain groups of people. We have to challenge that," Zuberi said.
Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch was also interviewed and said that there has been "a reckoning for museums" and the relationship between communities and artwork must be changed.
In October, the Smithsonian officially returned several artifacts back to Nigeria. However, Zuberi warned that such restitution could itself also be a form of "whitewashing" history if there’s no conversation to go with it.
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"Restitution can become whitewashing the issue if we forget that these objects came with people, that the enslavement of Africans, the enslavement of Africa and the colonization in Africa are part and parcel of what we are looking at when we see these objects. So, you can‘t now just sever that relationship…That would be bad. It is bad where people are doing it, because they are not creating a conversation. It is too late to say you will put things back the way they were, because they are not like they were," Zuberi said.
"PBS Newshour" recent gave airtime to climate justice activist Elizabeth Yeampierre who warned about "environmental racism" affecting minorities.
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"Literally the people least responsible for creating climate change, Black, indigenous, people of color, people who have historically always lived within their carbon footprint. Those are the communities most devastated and impacted by climate change," Yeampierre said last week.