On Monday night my son’s good friend from school went to a peaceful protest in Pasadena with his older brother and they did not return home. The boys were eventually found, and they are safe now. But I cannot stop thinking about how their mother must have felt during the 24 hours they were missing. Our greatest fear as mothers is that we may lose our children or that they could be hurt. For her, though, that fear is compounded by the thought of what they might be forced to experience just because they are Black.
The territory of worry that she has to cover every time her sons leave the house expands with every needless death brought about by unjustified violence. Should they wear hoodies? Trayvon Martin was murdered for wearing one. Should they eat ice cream? Botham Jean was killed in his own home while doing just that. Should they go running? Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and murdered while on a jog. Should they wear a pandemic mask? If they do they could be mistaken for a looter and get arrested. And if they don’t? Black people in America are dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19.
No, Black moms’ worrying about how the world will treat their kids is not new. Pervasive and persistent racism has put a target on their backs for four hundred years. But hate-fueled racism is escalating in a way that my generation has not yet seen. On Monday, we affirmed our solidarity with the Black community. But saying Black Lives Matter is not enough. We need to do more.
Below is just the beginning of a conversation about a plan of action that illuminates how this moment and this movement will influence and expand the work we do at USC PAM.
- Evaluating Collections: Before we can do better, we need to be better. We must confront the fact that the racist, colonial, and imperial structures that brought about this moment have historically been the same structures on which museum collections were built. This is a key moment for USC PAM to transparently evaluate our collection and create important dialogues around the problematic findings that might emerge. We will invite the public into discussions led by our Curator and Registrar to turn problematic provenance into teachable moments that help our museum and the community move forward together.
- Representation: For museums, the conversation about dismantling structural racism and promoting racial equity requires serious reflection about representation. We need more contemporary artist voices represented at USC PAM. The transformative work of contemporary artists affected by oppression conveys the real truth of this moment. We will collect art that widens our collection’s perspective and helps us reach different audiences.
- Listening: Creating social change has as much to do with speaking up as it does with listening generously. We will continue to build on programs that engage divergent perspectives, bring multi-racial and multi-cultural peoples together in dynamic conversation, facilitate discussions that are honest, well-rounded, and joined to the ethos of healing.
- Student Community: As a University museum we recognize our unique position to provide both a safe space and a platform for the diverse expression of student voices. USC PAM will increase campus accessibility to the museum so it can serve as a place of sanctuary, refuge, and resource for our student community. We will deepen our collaboration with students by forming advisory boards and student-centered forums, to promote self-reflection, expand empathetic reach, and replenish capacity to clear ground for the social evolution we seek.
- K-12 Youth, Teachers & Families: Amidst all this hate, how do we impart self-love, mutual respect, and understanding on our children? USC PAM will continue to build on its work with K-12 youth, teachers, and families designed to foster intercultural understanding and critical thinking through the art and cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands. Together with our educators, docents, and community partners, we will work on scaling our diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion initiatives. Our goal is that every child and family who visits the museum leaves feeling like it is a place of safety and welcome; where they can share their ideas and experience empathy towards the ideas of others.
- New Narratives: At USC PAM we recognize the need for new narratives with an eye towards elevating our shared humanity. This is especially true in our permanent galleries. We are currently revamping our Chinese Art Gallery and interactive Silk Road Gallery. Looking at Chinese art through the lens of the ideas that animated it, the people who created it, and how it functioned in a global world opens a fuller, nuanced picture that widens perspectives and deepens intercultural understanding. And revisiting the history and material culture of the Silk Road through the lens of cross-cultural exchange helps us see how interconnected we are with one another, both then and now.
These issues that divide us will not be resolved quickly. And our plans will continue to evolve with this moment. But taking these important first steps illustrates that we intend to go beyond saying Black Lives Matter. We intend to fold it into our museum practice.
Bethany Montagano, PhD
USC Pacific Asia Museum