The professor called the museums racist: built to “justify” the empire, the marginalization of colonialism


Sociology professor Tukufu Zuberi claimed on PBS Newshour on Wednesday that museums are inherently racist because they are built to “justify” empire, colonialism and marginalization.

Zuberi currently directs the redesigned Africa Galleries at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, or Penn Museum, where he seeks to change the “narrative” about museums and their relationship to African history.

“How do we take the enabled conversation and change the narrative here?” Zuberi asked. “Seize this moment to change the museum, the narratives in the museum, and the service we can provide to society about the national narrative, the international narrative, the human story.”

Documentary filmmaker and former co-host of PBS’s “History Detectives” told journalist Jeffery Brown that eliminating the racial bias that is “the bedrock of museums everywhere” is his top priority.

Sociologist Tukufu Zuberi said that racial antagonism and prejudice are the basis of museums.
(PBS)

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“If we’re going to tell the story of human civilization, we need to reconfigure these spaces to speak to diverse audiences in ways that eliminate the racial biases and prejudices that underpin museums everywhere. These museums [made] in order to justify empire, they had to justify colonization, the marginalization of a certain group of people. We have to oppose it,” said Zuberi.

Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch was also interviewed and said there was a “reckoning for museums” and that the relationship between communities and works of art needed to change.

In October, the Smithsonian officially returned several artifacts to Nigeria. However, Zuberi warns that such a reconstruction can itself be a form of “whitewashing” of history if there is no dialogue with it.

A Penn State student walks in the rain along Old Main on Penn State's main campus at Penn State College (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A Penn State student walks in the rain along Old Main on Penn State’s main campus at Penn State College (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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“If we forget that these objects came with people, that the slavery of Africans, the enslavement of Africa, and the colonialism of Africa are part of what we are looking at when we see these objects, the restoration can justify the problem. So now these relationships can’t be disconnected…It would be bad. It’s bad where people are doing this because they’re not creating a conversation. It’s too late to say I’m going to put things back the way they were, because they’re not the way they were,” said Zuberi.

The PBS Newshour recently gave airtime to climate justice activist Elizabeth Yeampier, who warned of “environmental racism” affecting minorities.

PBS Newshour previously interviewed the climate activist on the topic of "environmental racism."

PBS Newshour previously interviewed the climate activist on the topic of “environmental racism.”
(PBS)

“The people who are literally the least responsible for climate change, black people, indigenous people, people of color, people who have historically always lived within their own carbon footprints. These are the people most devastated by climate change. and affected communities,” Yeampier said last week.

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