Whiteness and Storytelling in Museums: An Examination of Racial Representation in Kansas City Heritage Institutions

Authors: Madeline Griem*, Emporia State University, Douglas L Allen, Emporia State University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Black Geographies, Cultural Geography
Keywords: tourism, Black geographies, museums, race and place, cultural geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 22
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the relationship between museums and race by engaging with how racially marginalized communities (and their histories and art) are represented at cultural and historical institutions in Kansas City, Missouri. Public institutions like museums are important pieces to understanding the histories and cultures of various social groups and have historically maintained white visions. In the past few decades practitioners and scholars have had a growing interest in representation, diversity, and inclusion of racially marginalized communities, particularly Black communities, within heritage institutions in the United States. Through an examination of the textual, audio, and visual components of the exhibits, we observed how (if at all) Black histories, cultures, and individuals were represented and in what ways they were represented within museum storytelling. Special attention was paid to the use of material culture in exhibits and the manner in which the exhibits position these communities in the museum narrative. Beyond simple representation, we focused on whether museum narratives were focusing on celebratory and affirmative storytelling or whether these narratives centered Black struggle and oppression. We also observed whether displays relied more heavily on material objects, text, or images to tell a story and which of these is used predominantly in Black representation. Our examination reveals that these Kansas City museums show an effort to highlight and celebrate Black individuals and communities through affirmative and contextualized narratives; however, there are still necessary strides to be made in several of these institutions toward decentering whiteness and white narratives going forward.

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