Developing Anti-Racist Messages and Approaches for Museums

The Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums (ESSM) project, sponsored by the Scottish Government, launched in 2020 to explore how the story of Scotland’s involvement in the British Empire, colonialism, and transatlantic slavery should be told using museum collections and spaces.

In May 2021, Rosie King and Sheila Asante from Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) talked to us about the project and how MGS are working to embed anti-racist practice in the Scottish museums sector, including working together to manage social media interest and answer questions about the project.

What is the Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums Project?

In June 2020, a motion was passed in Parliament in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement which included an amendment that Scotland should establish a slavery museum. MGS were asked to coordinate an independent review on how museum collections and spaces can better address Scotland’s legacies of empire and slavery.

They established a Steering Group (with Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, OBE as Chair) who will make recommendations to the Scottish government in May 2022, using evidence from a national public consultation taking place between June and November 2021.

At the same time, MGS are developing a two-fold digital resource to help the public and heritage sector workforce learn more about this topic. The first section on their website – a live area populated with local, regional, and national resources on empire, colonialism, and chattel slavery – will be updated as we learn more as a sector.

The second is a document intended for people who use social media in the sector, to help them answer online questions about embedding anti-racist practice in their work.

Conversations on Social Media

“Comms are critical to the success or failure of this kind of work and the ground needs to be prepared beforehand.”

The team began by making an FAQ document to use when answering questions about Scotland’s connections with Empire and chattel slavery on social media. The document was based on:

  • comments and questions MGS have received about the project in recent months;
  • those which museums in Scotland have received when discussing their work investigating the links with the legacies of empire and chattel slavery in their collections

They also consulted with experts from across the museums and equalities sectors, including the ESSM Steering Group, on areas that often come up in discussions around the legacies of empire and chattel slavery.

The team offered some general tips on how to handle negative comments, which they’d learnt while developing this document:

  • Phrase responses in a way that is sensitive and respectful
  • Taking the essence of disrespectful comments and interpret them in connection to wider themes
  • Be sure to link to more information to get around Twitter’s small character limit

We then looked at the document more in depth, discussing some of the FAQs and responses and other questions which might arise. The discussion was one of exploration and learning, with experiences shared by the project team and those working within social media-related roles.

The full document will be linked here as soon as it is made available.

Top Tips FOR SHARING ANTI-RACISM WORK ONLINE

The MGS team also offered the following more general tips on sharing work online, as based on their conversations with those running high-profile projects on the legacies of empire and chattel slavery within the UK museum sector:

  • Discuss your anti-racism work in terms of adding to and enlarging our shared histories, rather than switching focus from one culture to another: this is about all of us enriching our histories through this work.
  • Readers may experience a feeling of a loss of identity when talking about other identities, anticipate this and address it when writing your copy.
  • Curate good relationships with journalists who are naturally interested in these kinds of stories and work with them throughout the project which will lead to you having more control of an accurate portrayal of your work.
  • Avoid general press release at the end of the project, where the narrative can be hijacked.
  • Rather than trying to respond to, or create, a fight, explain that you’re trying to elevate everyone’s understanding of our history and reinforce the idea of an intertwined, connected, or shared past.
  • Demand nothing less than unconditional respect throughout engagement – don’t tolerate harassment or abuse.
  • Ensure that your content is evidence-based throughout and that the words you use are accurate – MGS found The Anti-Racist Glossary by The Anti-Racist Educator helpful.
  • Courage from leadership is needed for this approach to be effective, so if you’re a line manager, director or board member, stand in solidarity with your communications colleagues.

If you’d like to talk to MGS about the FAQ or other resources, contact essm@museumsgalleriesscotland.org.uk.


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