The fallacy of diversity presentations.

This blog post examines my personal experiences of when non-marginalised groups discuss diversity in the GLAM sector. It will cover, why I feel these presentations are not for me, the emotional labour involved in conferences and ways to tackle these problems. 

My careers getting off to a good start, so I’ve been going to a lot of conferences. These conferences and workshops ask the hot topic question; how do we get diverse audiences into museums, galleries and archives? 

I walk into these conferences, surrounded by white faces, mostly hetro peers, and able bodied counterparts. This same demographic makes up most of the speakers too. 

They stand in front of a mostly able bodied, white, hetro audience and ask ‘how do we diversify archives/museums/galleries?’ 

And when they start talking, I realise two things; this presentation is not for me, and they are repeating ideas I have heard in spaces with other marginalised groups.

If this presentation were aimed at me the speaker would not use words like ‘Nergo’ and ‘Coloured.’ If this presentation was for me I would feel safe in the knowledge that if I felt discomfort leaving would not cause offence. If this presentation was for me I would not feel words like ‘diversity’ and ‘community group’ other me from the profession I am in, but paint me as an outsider. If it was all with marginalised groups in mind, I would not leave feeling emotionally drained with at least 10 stories of racial micro-agressions. 

So now, when the words Diversity, Communities, inclusion leave the mouth of a non-marginalised individual they sound like fingers on a chalk board to me. I have heard those words countless times in the last two years and said them many more times. 

So, I’ve been thinking about what conferences can do to tackle this issue:

Mental and physical accessibility:

  • Reserve priority spaces next to the doors for anyone who needs it 
  • Ensure dietary requirements are substantially met 
  • Speech to text microphones to create subtitles on the presentation screen

Decreasing emotional labour:

  • Reach out to speakers who part of the community groups you wish to reach, give them a platform, they will not disappoint you. 
  • Give all non-marginalised speakers sensitivity training to avoid micro-aggressions, or straight up racism/sexism/queer-phobia. 

And lastly, don’t serve Pakora with sour cream, thats just offensive to everyone. 

Please let me know your thoughts, if you could change the way we are spoken about, not to, in conferences, what changes would you make? 

Published by Jass Thethi

I am a Library and Museum professional. I am passionate about fair representation and diversity arts and heritage. I created theconcept of Empowered Collaboration, which describes how to increase diversity by respectful coproduction with under-served groups. I discuss real life experiences of being a minority in arts and heritage and potential ways to diversify collections through my blog and twitter account. All views in this blog are my own and not that of my employer.

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