Calling all MASS Action Heroes

MASS Action 2017

Minneapolis, MN

“Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and to not make waves.”  Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T

Many of the individuals and corporations that fund our institutions agree – we must all be brave, speak up and work together to make real change.

Yesterday, as I listened to the opening statement of Dr. Porchia Moore, I noticed the frowns on the faces of many of the MASS Action participants.

20171011_173145Over 100 people from over 31 museums across the country were facing Dr. Moore as she tried to do justice to the topic of white supremacy in museums in a 10-minute presentation.

Her slides were clear, her evidence compelling, and her invitation to dismantle supremacy was on point. We have to undo the master narratives that have bound museum work in the chains of colonialist practice.I appreciated her, but there was not enough coffee in the world to get me prepped for an early morning jaunt into the problematic history of museums as spaces that exist to affirm and celebrate standards of “white” normative as “right” normative.

Dr. Moore was telling the truth, fearlessly pushing against rolled eyes, sighs, and suddenly crossed arms. Maybe she could not see the changes in posture that punctuated her slide changes. As a trained facilitator, I was sensitive to the paper rustling, throat clearing, and increased eye squints she was receiving. By the time her fellow panelists, the excellent Joanne Jones-Rizzi, Mike Murawski, and Gretchen Jennings, were done discussing their short presentations on museum responsiveness to community tragedy; myths of museum neutrality; and our social constructs of museums I was hopeful that the Q&A session would bring real dialogue.


Instead, question after question added to the erasure of the truths Dr. Moore had shared, by literally refusing to use the term ‘white supremacy’ or to even ask a related question. This seemingly active refusal to engage around the realities that Dr. Moore presented frustrated me greatly.
MASS Action, of all museum spaces, should have been a space honest and open enough to directly address the issues impacting our institutions – and country. Instead, I heard participants at a table near me whisper loudly, “our board would never go for that” and “try talking about that with our development team.” Unfortunately, negation through omission does not rectify our oppressive practices. The MASS Action heroes were duds, talking themselves out of doing any real work before they had even completed the conference. With diverse and vulnerable communities, our institutions and country in mind, I was forced into a moment of truth-telling.

Opportunistic Cowards.

Opportunistic: taking the opportunity to sit in this very privileged space and consume the energy, time and resources of others – ostensibly supporting social action, while simultaneously remaining committed to the status quo.

Cowards: because of fear, intimidation, or even disinterest, having no intention to bring the work of #MASSActionMia to your home institution.

The sensation that compelled me to speak out yesterday morning is a reality that I face daily. Our collective movement towards social justice is a long and iterative process, a journey with wins, losses, gains, and setbacks.  Our responsibility is not to an art museum in Minnesota, our responsibility is to affect change in institutions across the country.  We should not be passive responders, but truth seekers, bridge-builders and change makers actively creating the world we say we want to see.

I know that we can and must all do better. I know that we can and must all do it together, but it first starts by bravely telling the truth. I welcome all individual, community, institutional, public and corporate partners who wish to come together and act bravely to do the important work that I, many of my colleagues like Dr. Moore, corporate leaders like Randall Stephenson of AT&T, and others believe is critical to progress. Let’s all act bravely – together.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elon says:

    🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 That is incredibly disappointing to read but I appreciate your comments. Are theses folks who attended last year or new people? Because I don’t remember seeing that kind of disrespect and yes cowardice coming from fellow MASSAction attendees


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