When writer and editor Deena ElGenaidi applied to PhD programs and later MFA programs, she quickly learned that “as a woman and person of color, [she] had to “play up” [her] background in order to enter these primarily white institutions.” Forced to consider writing a personal statement that framed her ethnicity through the palatable lens of overcoming adversity, she now points out that not only can people of color feel compelled to disclose trauma, but they can even end up portraying an inaccurate picture of themselves in order to fit into a common narrative. ElGenaidi notes that admissions committees expect applicants of color to “tokenize and exploit themselves, talking about their cultural backgrounds in a marketable way in order to gain acceptance into programs and institutions we are otherwise barred from.” When she finds herself advising a student to do the same, however, she explains that “if we want to be afforded the same opportunities as white students, we have to exist within an unfair system;” she hopes to approach the topic differently in the future.
Following the announcement that Starbucks will devote a day to racial and implicit bias training for all employees, social psychologist Evelyn Carter points out that there are additional steps the company must take in order to effect lasting change. The first step is to “create mild discomfort” among white people, because as experts explain, “without mild discomfort, we may not be sufficiently inspired to change how we think or act.” Since research also shows that white people tend not to view “subtler behaviors (such as feeling uncomfortable around black people) as indicative of racism,” diversity trainings must heighten their ability to detect bias. Furthermore, trainings should “equip attendees with actionable steps they can take to confront bias in future situations,” along with adequate time to practice these steps and become comfortable using them. Lastly, Carter emphasizes the importance of measuring desired outcomes in order for Starbucks to enact long-term change and expand the conversation beyond implicit bias.
Community groups are speaking out against the recent appointment of a white woman, Kristen Windmuller-Luna, to oversee the Brooklyn Museum’s African Art collection. Imani Henry, a community organizer for Equality for Flatbush, a group that aims to stem the tide of gentrification in parts of Brooklyn, clarifies his stance about the new appointment: “We’re not saying we don’t want a white woman, but we want someone with a commitment to communities.” The protest brings up the larger issue of diversity in museum administration. In American museums, 60% of staff are female, and 84% are white, but it’s not just a problem of diversity by the numbers. Over and again, white people are appointed to be the curators—and therefore gatekeepers—of African art. Part of the problem is that entering the field of museum work often involves unpaid internships, which require financial support that is out of reach for many aspiring curators of color. In recent years, museum leaders across the country have responded by funding arts career pipeline programs for young people of color.