On June 2nd, the Tenement Museum’s leadership issued a statement in response to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others.
What was not named, and is important to name explicitly now, is our support for the Black Lives Matter movement and uprisings against police brutality. Language is powerful and we must exert that power with care. We apologize for harm that our previous statement has caused workers, visitors, and communities of the Lower East Side.
The Museum strives to be a leader in telling American stories. White supremacy and anti-blackness are central to American history and its violent present. Part of that violence is an institutional practice of omitting and erasing Black voices and perspectives.
We commit to building educational content that includes Black voices and perspectives and acknowledges the fact that anti-blackness is central to the immigrant, migrant, and refugee American stories told at the Museum. We commit to addressing the damaging ways we have educated about immigrant, migrant, and refugee history, while omitting Black history—as if there were no Black immigrants, migrants, or refugees.
The need for anti-racist work at the Tenement Museum has long been identified by museum workers, Lower East Side community members, visitors, and museum stakeholders. Five years ago, a group of Museum workers independently formed anti-racist working groups to uproot and address structural racism within the Museum. Their work has already led to tremendous change within the museum and continues to do so.
This is just a start, but not nearly enough. Public commitment to anti-racism work is long overdue. We commit now to the following actions:
- Tenement Museum staff will adopt shared and straightforward language about race and white supremacy in tour content as well as within internal and external communications. We will prioritize completing and distributing a language guide internally and on our website. As we edit and add to the content of our tours, we will actively seek out and collaborate with scholars and communities who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
- We will prioritize the dedication of resources for existing anti-racist working groups at the Museum and providing training for staff, board, and working group facilitators.
- We will implement more equitable hiring and retention practices to diversify leadership and staff at all levels. We will be transparent about the demographics of our board and senior management to reflect the work we have to do, as the makeup of our full-time staff and Board of Trustees is still predominantly white. We will expand our considerations of job qualifications and reach beyond our existing networks to advertise and hire.
- We will create meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with BIPOC organizations and institutions, starting locally, and we will be a better neighbor to the longstanding communities of the Lower East Side.
- We will commit to exploring alternatives to policing in order to best identify ways of addressing incidents that arise.
- We commit to providing the public with an ongoing progress report on the status of anti-racism work at the Museum.