Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, a PhD candidate examining museums and critical race theory, said the issues raised in Lucy Bell’s farewell speech are not unique to the Royal B.C. Museum.
Museums were built on a foundation of colonialism and continue to engage with culture and history through a white gaze, said Sandhra, who is also a council member of the B.C. Museums Association.
Sandhra gave a webinar on white supremacy in museums in June, which she said became a trigger for museums to look inward at their own role in upholding systems that maintain “inherently white” spaces.
After the webinar, Sandhra said she was contacted by people working in museums across the province who told of racism they experienced in their jobs, including staff at the Royal B.C. Museum who called it a “toxic workspace.”
Sandhra believes there is hope for museums to address racism, especially as she has seen colleagues recognize their complicity and name tangible steps to combat racism in recent months.
She feels hopeful when people such as Bell speak about their experiences of racism, “because silence is the greatest power to continuing to uphold systems of white supremacy,” she said.
“It’s the silence of where we constantly face issues and we just bear with it. … But the fact that she’s opened this, you know, can of worms essentially, is not unique to just Lucy.
“It’s unique to most [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] experiences within museum spaces. And I think this is going to allow those experiences in the British Columbian context to really come out.”
Change will start with leadership taking responsibility, said Sandhra.
“It really does need to be Jack [Lohman, the museum’s CEO],” she said. “Jack hasn’t responded to other community emails that have gone out to him. He needs to respond and he needs to take ownership.”