An Ethics Alarms Challenge: Defend Criticism Of The Brooklyn Museum’s Hiring Of Two White Curators Of Its African Art Collections Without Endorsing Racism

The Ethics Alarms verdict is that such a defense is impossible. Asks the Huffington Post in its “Black Voices” section, “People Want To Know Why Brooklyn Museum’s New African Art Curator Is White.” Why are they asking this? The answer is obvious and backed by the curriculum vitae of the two (not one) scholars hired, Drew Sawyer and Kristen Windmuller-Luna. They are eminently qualified for their new jobs, and the color of job applicants is not, and never should be considered “a credential.”

From the museum’s release:

Windmuller-Luna will rethink the Brooklyn Museum’s extensive collection of African art, which is comprised of more than 6,000 objects, and organize a freshly conceived temporary installation showcasing the depth of the collection. Her focus will be to create a dialogue between the African art collection and other works within the museum’s holdings while also helping to develop educational programming.

As a curator and historian of African arts and architecture, with a specialization in the early modern period and Christian Ethiopia, her work counters myths about African civilizations and artistic production by focusing on cultural specificity, artistic diversity and global historical context. Windmuller-Luna received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Art and Archaeology from Princeton University and her B.A. in the History of Art from Yale University.

Drew Sawyer will reimagine the role of photography collection within the museum and explore ways to integrate it with other collection galleries and exhibitions.

Sawyer is currently Head of Exhibitions and the William J. and Sarah Ross Soter Associate Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. He is also a co-organizer of the upcoming historical survey Art after Stonewall, 1969 to 1989 which will tour during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 2019. Sawyer holds a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University, specializing in North American art and visual culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

“Kristen’s vision for a new permanent collection installation that transforms how viewers relate to the arts of Africa is tremendously exciting for us as we near the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Museum’s pioneering exhibition of African art in 1923, ”said Deputy Director and Chief Curator Jennifer Chi. “Drew’s deep expertise in social and experimental documentary practices during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries will significantly augment our strong collection and will contribute to our history of championing contemporary artists who continue in this vein.”

Unless critics can identify clearly better qualified African-American scholars who were in the running for the position–they haven’t—the attacks on the museum’s choices come down to color, race, and and prejudice, and nothing else. They also define either a double standard, or a self-destructive one. The kind of limited race qualifications being argued for hardly open up more opportunities for black scholars, unless the preferred concept is “It’s racist to consider race when hiring  curators for European and Asian art collections, and racist not to make race determinative when hiring curators for African art collections.

Of course, I conclude that “heads we win, tails you lose” this is the preferred construct of the race-baiters, but I will await the responses to the Ethics Alarms Challenge.

Addendum: This comment on the controversy from Amy Alkon:

…and check out one of the tweets about the hire of Windmuller-Luna: “People from the African Diaspora are frustrated w/white people being gatekeepers of our narrative,” tweeted Kimberly Seldon.


Does somebody eat, sleep, and breathe African art? Great.

Their skin color should be unimportant.


Pointer: Althouse

42 thoughts on “An Ethics Alarms Challenge: Defend Criticism Of The Brooklyn Museum’s Hiring Of Two White Curators Of Its African Art Collections Without Endorsing Racism

  1. People from the African Diaspora are frustrated w/white people being gatekeepers of our narrative

    Boy, imagine if a group hostile to your own viewpoint was able to control how that viewpoint was portrayed in the media. What must that be like?

      • Now that we’re all apprised of this non-controversy in the Sinclair buy out, I’m really confused why you find issue with a particular company owned by generally conservative individuals buying several local media outlets.

        Yet are resoundingly quiet and even content with the *generations-long* ownership of the most influential outlets with local and national scope by wildly progressive elites who don’t even try to hide their intentional skewing of media anymore…

        What are we supposed to take away from this?

  2. I think you can throw the EEOC rule book at these people, which will say that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity for hiring purposes. Since this is not a play, where a certain character is black, female, whatever, there is nothing in their race and/or ethnicity that precludes them from executing their job functions. If HuffPo doesn’t agree with the rules, then it can argue that the 1965 Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. I think that would be the honest thing to do on their part, but they won’t do that, because that would also mean affirmative action and some immigration policies would be thrown out the window.

    • According to 25 USC, on an Indian Reservation, if a job opening happens, and an Indian applies, he/she gets the job, regardless of qualifications. Found this out when I was working as Director Of School Counseling at a BIA boarding school on the Navajo.

      • dragin_dragon wrote, “According to 25 USC, on an Indian Reservation, if a job opening happens, and an Indian applies, he/she gets the job, regardless of qualifications.”

        That’s literally institutionalized racism.

          • There’s a lot worse going on on the rez. Time to … no, long past time to start cleaning it up. I young man I knew had a girlfriend in college, an excellent artist and teacher and well on the way to a professional career. She was called back to her family on the rez when her grandmother was dying and chose to stay and take a job there in order to support them. When she couldn’t find anything above minimum wage nearby, she took an extremely lucrative position as a truck driver . . . hauling uranium to and from mines (most of the uranium in the US is located on Indian reservations) or cross-country, at triple pay because of the danger of driving on public roads from other places in the country (hospitals, etc.) to avoid the weigh stations and any public or police scrutiny. She sweated off pounds she couldn’t afford to lose in a 40 lb.+ hazmat outfit (about the same as firemen wear) in the blazing southwestern sun. The outfits weren’t checked regularly by the company and began to break down. When she was finally taken to the hospital recommended by the company a bit over a year from the time she started driving, the radiation sickness was “mistakenly” diagnosed as cancer (they actually had the gall to suggest radiation as a treatment but never carried through on it!), her skeletal thinness and constant vomiting was labeled bulemia, and when her skin began to peel off her medical record had it as “severe sunburn.” She died fifteen months after going home. The company put the hospital charges on her, which they had to reverse and pay compensation to the family as well after her boyfriend finally managed to find her family (she had cut off all ties off the rez) and hired a lawyer who simply threatened the company with revealing the true cause of death and what led up to it. He tried getting the Federal government to pay attention — the state senator, the BIA, FBI, CDC, etc., and even wrote an article about it which he tried to get newspapers interested in but he was stonewalled by the state (apparently the senator’s office said she hadn’t been a registered voter so they had no evidence she was a resident), dismissed with veiled threats by officials, and nodded at by editors, by mail and in person, and no reporter yet has taken up such a juicy story. Or if they have taken it up, they must have dropped it like a hot uranium rod.

  3. This has taken a bit of a turn into the WTF area, with a nice ending.

    Apparently now EVIL White people, at least one leastways, are not allowed to quote MLK, Jr.

    Race-baiter extraordinaire Roland Martin got his @$$ highfreakin’lariously handed to him when, in an exchange with Jennifer Grossman he wasn’t winning, the talented Mr. Martin pulled out the race card: “Please don’t quote [Dr. Martin Luther King],”

    “ ‘I will quote him!’ an irritated Grossman fired back. ‘Do you want to have more of a debate on race?’

    “ ‘You’re kind of politically-correct bullying of people on racism is not going to work,” she continued, wagging her finger in the air. ‘SO I WILL QUOTE DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING EVERY SINGLE DAY. AND YOU WON’T STOP ME.‘ ” (bolds caps mine)

    GAME_SET_MATCH! You go Grrrrl!

  4. I suspect both these people will be eased out and replaced ASAP and the show will be canceled or at least postponed. This is Brooklyn.

    • Is it somewhat telling that not a single resident SJW would come on and even say “yep, people protesting this are dumb”.

      I mean, does the silence mean anything akin to “we really don’t like the picks of the white people, but we can’t argue against it without being racist, but instead of adjusting my view of the world, I’ll just not say anything.”? Or is it truly a coincidence that they were all particularly busy to post on this particular topic?

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