We may be at an inflection point.
The brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, occurring in the midst of an economic crisis and a global pandemic that is disproportionately devastating to the lives of people of color, have been met with the continuous and persistent work of Black organizers and intellectuals. The result has been to place systemic racism, and how to end it, in the forefront of the national conversation.
The role of archivists now
Many believe we are on the cusp of meaningful social change. What is the role of cultural heritage professionals in this historical moment? A statement by the governing council of the Society of American Archivists helps some of us to begin to find the words to express our sentiments:
"As archivists, we learn from history that this country was founded on genocide and slavery. We continue to witness the legacy of this history with systemic and structural racism that lead to marginalization, disenfranchisement, and death. The murder of George Floyd, and countless others, at the hands of the police manifest the continuing atrocities faced by Black Americans today. As a profession, we stand by our community and acknowledge, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter."
The actions we take as professionals in this moment are driven first and foremost by the value we place on social responsibility. Our imperative now is to lift up the voices and actions of the Black activists who are fighting for racial justice.
We also find guidance in this Call to Action, including the call to “ethically and comprehensively archive during this moment, to ensure that we shine light onto the oppressive systems that disproportionately subject Black people to generational pain and suffering.” Indeed, we have always sought to document the experiences of members of the Black community and those struggling for racial justice.
Yet we also listen to the authors of the Call to Action when they call on archivists to be mindful of exploitative collecting practices and to engage in ethical memory work. We know that collecting social media or photographs of protests by archives in real time has put activists in peril in the past. We will address these issues in greater detail in our next post in this space.
We are here to support your efforts at documentation
Therefore, at this time, those of us responsible for archival collection development and community engagement in Atkins Library have decided to refrain from actively collecting or soliciting materials relating to the demonstrations against police brutality that are currently taking place in Charlotte. However, we are encouraging this documentation by the activists themselves, and we are here to support their efforts.
Here are some resources that may be of interest to some:
- Authority Collective’s ethics of photographing protests (PDF)
- Witness.org guide to filming protests, demonstrations, and police conduct (PDF, 2 pages)
- Witness.org guide to conducting interviews (PDF, 2 pages)
As always, we invite you to contact us or another archivist supporting activists to let us know about your efforts at documentation -- we would like to get in touch when we do begin collecting about these events. In our next post, we will offer resources to aid in the long-term preservation of photos, videos, social media, etc.
--Archival Collection Development & Community Engagement Committee, Special Collections & University Archives
This news item was edited on July 2 and July 3, 2020.