Searching for Black Historical past w/ Bonnie Greer, Olivette Otele, Miranda Lowe & Valika Smeulders

published on June 30, 2020

I am so grateful that you're all here

tonight under this beautiful full moon

and thank you very much for coming out

coming here and I want to say something

very personal before I start saying more

personal things I'm really happy to be

allowed to be a foreign-born woman of

African descent today to say what I want

to say and I'm gonna do that today so

thank you all for being with me

thank you British Museum now The

Supremes number one and I'm not joking

professor Olivette hotel a former

professor of history at Bath Spa

University and vice-president of the

Royal Historical Society she has just

been appointed to a new post as

professor of the history of slavery at

Bristol University starting this month

she is an expert on the links between

history memory and geopolitics in

relation to French and British colonial


she charts and analyzes the way in which

Britain and France have been addressing

questions of citizenship race and

identity through the politics of

remembrance she also considers the value

of public gestures the meaning of public

history and the impact of cultural

memory and she is the first black woman

to be appointed to a prop for serial

chair in the history of the United

Kingdom professor dr Olivera Tilly

yes ma'am our said supreme number two

dr Miranda Lowe principal curator and

museum scientists at the Natural History

Museum London with over two decades

worth of collections management and

cultural skills dr Lowe cares flaw a

plethora of historically important

specimens from both the Challenger and

discovery oceanic expeditions since her

year-long so common in 2006 to learn

about exhibitions and gallery

interpretation in a museum environment

she has been exploring her passion for

the Royal museum exhibitions play in our

understanding of the natural world as a

volunteers stem and you all know what

stem means science technology

engineering and mathematics ambassador

and communicator of science she does

outreach work in schools and behind the

scenes at the Natural History Museum

London she mentor students as part of

the social mobility foundation aspiring

professional scheme and the Prince's

Trust in 2013 dr LOH was one of three

finalists for the national diversity

Awards positive role model award for

race religion and faith receiving a

certificate of excellence for her

achievement she's one of the founders

also a museum detox and she was born in

South London dr Miranda Love

and supreme the last supreme but not the

least doctor velika smelters curator of

the forthcoming exhibition on slavery

opening at the Wright museum Amsterdam

in 2020 this is going to be a

groundbreaking exhibition dr smolders

specializes in social diversity heritage

museums and the slavery past and is

written on these topics in the

Netherlands the Dutch Caribbean Ghana

and South Africa she works with heritage

institutions universities and community

organizations our new heritage

presentations and reaching new audiences

in The Hague as a researcher for the

world Netherlands Institute of Southeast

Asian and Caribbean studies she

researches the Dutch Caribbean diaspora

in the Netherlands and new definitions

of heritage and when I read met her at

the Reich Museum a couple of months ago

she was telling them about maroon

culture because people need to know

about that

our last supreme dr Velika Smulders

okay everybody this is gonna be really

uncomplicated this is gonna be a

conversation you may hear some stuff you

don't like you may hear some stuff you

disagree with but what we want to do

tonight is make this a space that you

can listen to that you feel safe in and

that you can speak everybody is speaking

for themselves they're not speaking on

behalf of anything or anybody but

themselves and that's what tonight is

about and after we speak for a little

bit then I'm gonna open it up for you

and you can ask questions or react to

whatever so I've only got three

questions and I don't know honestly cuz

because you know life is short

okay I'm gonna ask each of you and

people and whoever can start but you all

got to answer what is diversity and what

does it mean to you I can I'm raring to

go before I say what I what I think it

is or what it is to me

it should be for institutions that think

they're diverse will want to become more

diverse it should be more than a

declaration it should be an actual

demonstration so that's really important

what it means to me that you are

reflecting either the communities you're

within the country that you're in those

diverse communities should be

represented within your the context of

your galleries and what you display as

much as possible

showing them information about

themselves they want to see things about

themselves in their culture there should

also be in terms of diversity

representation and diverse communities

within museums and cultural institutions

there on on their staff there's a lot

about this

at the moment and that's one of you know

the reasons why we're here that

diversity is key to everything more

productivity within institutions better

collaborations and your scene outside of

walls such as the British Museum or the

Natural History Museum where I work you

will be seen in a better light if you

reflect what is going on outside around

you yes that's yeah okay my I'm coming

from the French background so it's gonna

be a bit blunt when somebody says

diversity for me means less racists so

we want to be diversity means you are

racist and you want to appear to be less

racist so you're going to hire somebody

and it's going to be that one person

who's going to carry the loads do with

the emotional labor and yeah Baliga well

I'm from the Netherlands so it's

different where I'm from actually I was


I've been freelancing for a few years

and when I started at these two

institutions where I'm now working

people started by saying I was there

like Alice in Wonderland the only black

woman over there and people when I

talked about diversity were telling me

but we are really diverse and I didn't

understand until I understood that they

meant that there were a lot of women

there but not women of color so what

I've learned in these last few years

is that it's really important once you

started to diversify that it's a verb

it's about the work whenever you go are

in an institution and a certain group is

not there you are unaware of what's

important to that group so once they

start coming in you need to change

yourself look at yourself from a

different angle from the angle that

the new group is bringing in and then

you are diversifying then you are

changing but I promise that it will be

completely different from what it was

before and I think that's when we've

done a good job well let me ask the

three of you what's the difference

between diversity and the diversity

business I can start again the diversity

business is currently a big business

what is it what is it was the difference

between that and diversity well it kind

of leaks back to my first sort of line

was it should be more than a declaration

it should be a demonstration so at the

moment the way I see it a lot of it is a

declaration it's good for business there

needs to be and so the differences in

there needs to be action in a

demonstration and an understanding as

well it's not just putting that you

become diverse if you have someone like

me you've also got to change the culture

within my Olivette was talking about you

know being less less racist it's it's

not easy being one of a few within any

kind of institution you've got to change

the culture as well and there's got to

be it's not just about me putting myself

in other people's shoes it's the other

way around we talked about you know we

do a lot of collaborations on projects

worldwide and things like that but you

know being diversity it's and it's hard

work we have to be understanding of each

other and our cultures and our

backgrounds where we come from and what

time it is when we're going to have this

meeting and whether we're all up for

this discussion you know it's hard work

but it's good work it will pay off and

it does pay off in the end you know I'm

gonna tell a story on myself because I

have to do that miranda is one of the

contributors to the podcast and she

tells an incredible story and maybe she

won't tell us a little bit about this

this man of African descent who is

considered a traitor as far as the

maroon cultures of Suriname are

concerned the indigenous cultures but

he's also a hero in the medical world

and this is the kind of contradiction

that the podcast is about and about

history as well but I'd the story when

telling myself is that Laura Jeter who

is one of the beautiful producers and

directors of this podcast and I think

Ruth who's with us as well and we are

with poncey the other director and

co-producer we we went to the Natural

History Museum to look for dr Miranda

Lowe so what they were asked what the do

was be in your space of work and have an

object or two that you like now I've

only been the Natural History Museum a

couple of times my mind

I heard her name I was in the space I

walked right past her looking for dr

Miranda Lowe I did it it took me a

couple of seconds and then I thought and

I checked myself I stood there and I

thought why did I do that how did I do

that and I will never forget that moment

of myself you know hollering about

diversity and what have you and the

sister was standing there ready and I

walked past her so that's kind of like

about the institution that's kind of

like about your own unconscious sort of

mindset about the institution as well

and that's why me by the diversity

business in a way yeah people talk to me

about decolonizing museums and

universities what does that mean and how

do you do that

I'm gonna start with this one for me

decolonizing is a word that is so widely

that has so many definition depending on

people that it's becomes really hard to

have one set so I'm gonna speak just for

for myself I consider that we can talk

about decolonizing only when we

understand colonization and if you don't

understand colonization the colonizing

takes on a different meaning which is a

very contemporary now meaning whereas

for me if you go back and you look at

the history of colonization british

empire french empire portuguese empire

all these stuff we don't necessarily

have time but we have a few stories if

you understand this history of

oppression then you also understand that

it stood alongside a history of

resistance that is incredibly important

for me the history of resistance is the

history of anti colonization or anti

colonial history if you understand those

two histories it's impossible to react

as a colonizer 21st century colonizer so

it seems to me that decolonizing has to

go back in time and has to look at what

has been learned from our ancestors and

then bring it back to the 21st century

and see how we have constantly been

resisting surviving and even thriving

and from there you can teach about not

necessarily removing what exists but

actually creating that space where

there's a narrative that is an

alternative narrative that sits


other narratives if you feel inclined

and you want to remove the old that

black wealthy all that white people

please do personally I keep them and I

keep them why because I keep them well

as relics of the past that's you know

you know one thing only that is one of

the contributors on the podcast as it's

Miranda they both changed my life in in

in a very profound way

I read history at university I'm sure a

lot of you did too I also came up during

the civil rights era so it was very very

much about being very focused on slavery

and and the fight against slavery

so that unconsciously Africa begins at

slavery the the the struggle everything

begins at that time almost as if Africa

comes into being and in 1619 for

Americans and and you know before that

and what I learned from you was and also

for Miranda the complexity of African

history relation to slavery in

particular in relation to

colonialization and that we we need to

first of all go back way past slavery

because it's a huge massive history some

of it we can see here this museum and in

other places huge history huge history

that isn't even talked about a

documented because as I say in the

podcast history is told by the people

who write it and if and if we don't get

a chance to write it if we don't get a

chance to talk about it I can you talk a

tiny bit and I'm gonna ask for Anna to

do this as well talk a tiny bit about

those contradictions that are so

interesting that you pointed out

particularly the women shrink the singer

who I was quite amazed by them yes I

talked about Quinn's Inga and the fact

that sir she was a powerful queen who

got into power got into power

she wouldn't expect it to get into power

but she got into power through diplomacy

in while at the same time plotting in

setting up her own nursery mercenaries

and her own private army but what was

interesting for me to look at her life

is the way she constantly adapt to to

the invaders she negotiated with him but

at the same time she resists them she

converts to Catholicism but at the same

time she keeps her

well her own identity

she understand that sometimes you have

to compose with your presser for the

time being to kind of learn from that

repressor that's what she did with the

Portuguese and she was then out done by

they had to fight against the Portuguese

and then the durch and it was just

non-stop so by the age of well I think

it was around sixty you could still find

her in the battle fighting fighting

physically fighting in the battle so the

contradictions for me are this these

areas where we call them great areas but

these areas where you actually need

sometimes to choose your battle so to

speak and wait for the right moment to

do what you need to do yeah so for me I

hear now I heard a very sort of famous

writers say you know talked a lot about

Africa being you know raped and and I

felt and in learning from you that it

was it was a it was again as you always

said was not invented the benefit you

know these the Europeans landed but

there was a car there were complex

societies there were society is equal to

Rome their societies equal to Greece

like the cush and the Kentucky who who

stood up to Roman to Greece and also did

what they needed to do in order to

survive so that history history of

Africa in particular becomes not a

history of people lying down being

supine but actually negotiating finding

out what to do how to live how they

function in this environment so it was

incredible for me and and really changed

me because I began to see this huge

Pantheon it's huge panorama of Africa

not being sort of sort of standing there

falling down but fighting back but also

doing business if they had to do the

business you know it was partly that as

well something yes a couple of days ago

I did an interview BBC Radio Bristol and

one of the things that the presenter

said was you know Africans were selling

he didn't see that way but basically was

saying their own people and then they

were fighting amongst themselves between


and yeah that just just ignited

something in me and I was ready to tell

him about empires and the wars in well I

was cut off he basically coming off but

it really annoyed me that in 21st

century people are still talking about

the tribes fighting amongst themselves

and I'm thinking as a historian we

haven't done our job properly to do it

or had the accent you know to do it

Miranda and Gromit quasi your person who

can you tell us a bit about him as well

and I'm again I'm I'm presenting these

this this this sort of landscape this

contradiction because sometimes we're

taught the history from one side and

it's bigger than that so the story of

Gorman quasi originates from one of the

Botanical ceiling panels in the Hintze

hall at the Natural History Museum

there's a plant there or an illustration

painting of a plant called quasi Amara

and that plant was named after Graham on

by : Ayers and what had happened in

around the 1750s Graham on was well he

was enslaved as a child and taken away

from Ghana and moved to Suriname but

they're growing up he learnt or taught

himself all the medicinal properties of

various plants including this one and

and by the sort of mid 1750s he had

discovered that if you boil the bark of

that plant or the other or the leaves do

the leaves that the properties from that

it's a bitter tea but it would be used

to purge intestinal parasites reduce

fever and so he was well known as you

know that the person to go to the doctor


I call him the botanist as well and so

that he sold his recipe and samples of

the plant came back and went into the

hands of : mayors and then later you

know Coleman is for those of you that

don't know

Carlin ace is the known as the godfather

of the grandfather of taxonomy so naming

plants and animals a system that

scientists still use elements of it

today and so the rest is history in

terms of the plant and and you know I

told this story on the black history

tour that I give it the museum in the

Hintze hall so in in one way I think oh

gosh isn't that really amazing that

someone like Carl Linnaeus would name a

plant after this person of color and all

of that goes with it but then gram on

for the local community in Suriname he

fought against the Maroons with the

Dutch and so that you know that's

another sight to the story that it's not

easy and and he's not well well might

he had his ear cut off as a result but

he was honoured by the Dutch later on

and his life and I think he lived to all

of the documents say to a grand old age

of 90

and you know in some considerable wealth

more than and and you know on the

podcast you and I have a little

discussion about being inside global

museums you know being inside of them

and also having a person having a

contradictory person like Grauman quasi

who is considered a great botanist a

great scientist but if you were to go to

Sri Nam and say his name you wouldn't

get the same reception that you would in

The Hague but I mean which I know

they're yeah but yeah yeah I mean that

that's documented and I'm looking

forward to I think that I think what I'm

saying is it's about the contradict it


me about the contradiction that you know

and this is the thing I'm it I'm

interpreting other people's story right

in story but what it is a contradiction

but why I tell that story because not

many people have known that story and

and I think it it's something that we

all need to be aware of but also you

know the contribution that people of

color that have made to society and what

I mean cuz that plant and I'm and I'm

following this trail now as well that

plant has been used widely like like a

lot of other plants widely in the

pharmaceutical industry still today so

the economics about that the

contribution this person has given to

science and to medicine and to the

health of other people is amazing when I

went to El Mina two decades ago before

it was really become you know a place I

just I remember and I said standing at

the on the ramparts of El Mina and being

african-american and coming from a

generation that I come from I mean we

invented Wakanda I mean let's just be

honest about it and and and and

everything that Wakanda is and isn't I

know the good things about what Condon

what Wakanda does and the agency Wakanda

lies but it's also another flip side of

it so as an african-american in those

days you go there like you know

basically wearing you know five or six

Nations clothes on you just like a view

and you're aware Swiss and think you're

being European or African or whatever

that is and then go until Amina and

standing on those ramparts and looking

and thinking wow first of all my

ancestors survived this and we find out

in the podcast that many of them maybe

even most the slave revolts on board

ship were led by women and that makes

sense because the men were chained below

the women were allowed up on the ship

for the sexual violence that was imposed

upon them but be also because they were

women and oh I believe they could do


and of course they turned a lot of ships

around Lords of London was invented

basically the – to deal with slave

revolts on ship called insurrection of

cargo so it was really interesting being

at El Mina because my questions began

there I wanted to understand especially

when I went to Kumasi I wanted to

understand how did my ancestors come

down from there

what happened because Europeans didn't

go up there couldn't go up there because

the climate what happened so what I want

to say as for Lika and what's

interesting about the Dutch because we

don't talk about the Dutch a lot

especially in this part of the world

that we do talk about I mean because El

Mina was controlled by the Dutch and

your museum the Wright museum is first

of all not only the the sort of Great

Exhibition place for one of the greatest

artists in Western art Rembrandt but

also it is a combination the Natural

History Museum it is a combination of

the National Gallery it is a master

monstrous institution in the Netherlands

itself it is it is huge is a huge

operation and you're there and you're

doing this show in a land where people

still black up their faces and walk

around and you gotta fight them to get

that all how do you how do you how do

you function how are you doing yes it's

daunting yeah can I park that question

for a little bit because I just want to

add something to the story that Miranda

was telling you that there's such a

beautiful story about a girl monk Wesley

and it's really interesting how complex

is his story is that's absolutely true

but I want to add something that I think

is really interesting and that has not

been said before here on stage is that

he is also one of the first people who

came over from Suriname to the

Netherlands because he was paid to help

the colonial government fight the

Maroons and in turn the Maroons set fire

to his

so he wanted his house back and he asked

for the government in Suriname to pay

that for him and they refused so he said

I'm gonna go to the Dutch government and

I'm gonna get my money and so he did he

traveled he came and talked to the

Prince William the fifth the stockholder

and he got his money for his house but

the point I'm making is that in that


halfway through the 18th century there

were already people coming over from the

Americas from the Caribbean to the

Netherlands because that was where the

central the highest courts were where

they could fight for their rights and

demand their rights so if you look at

the national history of the Netherlands

you could see these people as some of

the first freedom fighters some of the

first people who came and demanded for

human rights and that human rights was

not something that came about in the

20th century but it started way before

there because there was this ingest

system that was colonialism but we just

don't see them as such and we don't

remember their something them as such so

that is something that we should add to

the way that we see European history

that's so fascinating because one of the

things I did discover in the research on

this is the first black image named

black image in in in Western art

happened here a black man who was the

The Herald of Henry's seventh and Henry

the 8th called John Blanc haha Blanc and

he's a beautiful guy and he comes into

history because he's demanding his money

he finds out he didn't get paid and then

there the other brothers who when Henry

the eighth's flagship the mary-rose

sank and in in the 16th century and I

learned that from from dr Miranda

Kaufmann that when you look at Wikipedia

it says Venetians went down to salvage

the ship and remember in those days

there's no Salvage equipment but

actually when they say black folks don't

swim those were all black people who did

and that was their specialty was to go

in the salvage and again we hear now

you're telling me that that that Grauman

comes into history asking for what he's

asking for his due and that's how he

comes in so it's not about people being

chained up it's about people asking for

what they're owed and that's the more

stories like that about women who did

that as well yes but you asked me about

the Rijksmuseum and what it's like to be

working well it's you have to tells

everything adventure yeah it's really

nice being there I mean I've been I've

done research into the way that

different countries are dealing with

their slavery past in museums and I've

mostly traveled to countries where the

majority of the people can relate to the

experience of being enslaved and even

there it's a very traumatic part of

history that people are reluctant to be

looking back upon but I've never worked

in an institution where there are

majority of the people who work there

the vast majority is white but also all

the visitors are white so while I'm

trying to bring in something from my

background which is a Caribbean

background which is from thinking and

learning through Black Studies African

Studies everything I've learned in Latin

American Studies for example that is a

huge challenge but what we're come to

and constantly struggling with is what

the museum fears that the visitor with

who doesn't know anything about colonial

history how that visitor will react

because the visitor it will be related

to a national history in which he thinks

slavery did not form part of that and to

to take that National Museum and do

slavery exhibition is then a very very

big challenge so I'm trying and I'm


colleagues who constantly ask me

questions from that perspective and then

the the beautiful thing I think about it

is that we get to ask new questions not

just the concepts that have been

developed in in in black academia in

african-american academia I can bring

that in but they in turn ask me

questions that I have never thought

about before so I think we're gonna be

able to go deeper into this this history

because it is a world history from the

perspective of what the European must

have experienced in that period so these

are questions about responsibility about

what did they know about could they even

imagine what life must have been like

for enslaved people did they have a

choice to what point and I think those

are not questions that I would ask so

it's important to bring all of that

together and together we can write a new

new new parts of world history you know

I I am

oh you think of applause let me stop you

this this kind of series and a series in

the talks are coming after this and

reclamation grew out of some

conversations at Hartwig Fisher and

Hartwig and I have been having over nine

months just talking talking talking

about you know what do I want to do here

what should should we be doing so this

has pretty much been a big curve for me

Hartwig introduced to me to Edward Lee

song the great

Caribbean right to thinker poet of

Francophonie and that opened my life to

the Caribbean because you know as an

American it's like if we go there for

holidays and stuff I I'm not gonna bunch

of Americans here well I mean that's

what they and I didn't know enough about

the Caribbean so for me now the the

Caribbean becomes a very

interesting place of transmutation it

becomes a very interesting place of

resistance it becomes a very interesting

place of culture it becomes a very

interesting place of coming together we

know from the podcast that there was a

great warrior tribe of women in and I

think I can't remember the part of

Africa they came from but they were at

war Benin yes dummy and got into got got

themselves deported on the slave ship

wound up in Haiti and of course they

were the ones that held off the French

the French didn't know that they had

actually brought over this warrior class

of women and these sisters held them off

until the French finally said listen pay

us some money and we'll back off and

they kept paying money Haiti paid money

until about 1945-46 to the French so

it's it's that discovery of the

Caribbean for me now I feel this is the

whole that Caribbean the Dutch the

English and I don't think it gets enough

respect I don't get it think it gets

enough focus I don't think it gets

enough voice I don't think it gets

enough the whole thing because that's

where everything that's where it changes

and begins that that is my feeling and

so having said that I think that's my

passion are you

I'm totally totally 100% Caribbean now

what needs to be reclaimed or maybe you

said it what needs to be reclaimed in

relation to black history I don't even

know what black history but but anyway I

think we all have an individual feeling

or definition of it what needs to be

reclaimed in relation to black history

what aspect of it is missing lost

ignored what are we in search of now

velika well what I'd love for us to do

with some would have become more and

more passionate about I work at two

institutions the one is in

historiography and we use a lot of

written sources the other is a museum

and we use mainly objects and what I

miss in all of this is what I was used

to that was normal in the Caribbean

where I come from is the oral sources

and immaterial heritage because through

that those forms of heritage you come to

insights in the past that you never

reach through the objects or through the

with written sources you come to so much

more than that material heritage the

material heritage will bring you to the

stories about the wealth and the power

and about many masculine power as well

but if you go through the oral sources

you will find the stories of people who

were enslaved how they felt about it

whether they felt human or dehumanized

how they went about it how they came to

be warriors how they came to resist

in what ways and those are the stories

that we have not heard enough about and

a strong part is also that it's not just

about that romanticized version of power

and wealth and the big monuments we see

here it's about the experience of being

human in every sense of the way

pain the guilt if you are maroon and

your flee and you leave your family

behind what must have but must have have

been like that the choices you have to


what do you dare do and not and I think

that's so much more powerful and

something that's been missing all over

that I think that's what we should

strive for now

thank you off the back of that I totally

agree with what you said and we within

those stories it's it is all about being

human it's all about us connecting with

those those stories and you know there

needs to be more factor the reason why

some of these oral histories have not

been teased out before it's all about

where institutions place the value on

these things and if the value is just

totally in objects well it's only got

one kind of meaning one kind or you know

in a certain kind of connection but it

you can get such a much more rich

connection to objects and other things

with the oral histories or you know

though oral histories and stories are

also things that have been you know

stories that have been passed down

through generations as well that tell

you about generations of people and

investigate whether those stories are

still told in certain communities now

worldwide things like that can offer so

much dynamics to you know things and

stories and objects within cultural

institutions so yeah I do believe it's

it's all about the value and and that

has been missing as part part of it for

me of course I agree I look at the way

we teach history and I think that going

marks your point is it's not just about

the monument in all the rest of it I

look in fact I look at the history at

each history through memory and through

memory also look at things that are

important to certain communities food

for example how you tell a story through

food it's a story of resister

it's beautiful story that completely

changes the way you look at colonial

history and and the legacies of the past

so it is that for me that needs to be

reclaimed but there's also the fact that

we always tell not always but we often

tell these days black British history

through white history it's mediated by

Western history

how about intercultural history how

about the history between life people in

in people of Asian descent how about the

city community that has been in India

for the last 300 years past a black

history as well so I would like to see

that reclaimed as well not always

through the kind of story black white

slavery because 21st century Britain is

a beautiful story of intercultural that

is not black and white but black and

Asian and all sort of combination as

well in in families what do you want to

ask me I want to start I want to start

and from a very personal point of view

it's going to be a declaration of love

I've I'm coming in love with her voice

and I love women my apartment is my

weave you don't you could she she would

never know how much I love her

but no no I do now so what has been

tearing me apart is seeing people

getting through her I mean social media


I confess sorry and I have seen her

seeing people tearing her apart in

social media newspapers and things like

that and as a black woman not just a

public figure but as a black woman as a


if you could tell us about how you cope

with stress anxiety or pain anger and

all that I I think um I think it was

Oscar Wilde who said that if you're a

writer you have to have a little bit of

ice in your heart

I Love You Man beings I love humans that

makes me laugh

also there's a tiny bit the

anthropologist in me so you know when

people say to me I you know people say

you always talk about white man you must

hate white man you me I said well that's

what my husband tells me all the time

you know and yeah well you know you you

know you went eating a ba ba ba ba ba

and I you know I love watching people do

this because no seriously and it's and

if you were playwright or if you're

novelist you know or you know what I'm

saying there's a part of me that's

actually kind of provoking it a little

bit like I call down trumped whittler

and you know and I get these people the

only thing that's that actually is

painful is stupidity beauty is painful

and that's hard you know when you get

folks who who are running things and

they stupid that's that's the part that

really gets me and that depresses me

other than that I really enjoy social

media I I am in fact Piers Morgan

blocked me which is one of my my claims

to fame and you know piers was the one

that's telling Megan to go back where

she came from so I tweeted to piers

today we would love you to go back where

you came from

so it's it's I I like it I I do like it

yes thank you very much this might be a

question that might come from the

audience at some point by some I'm

getting in there fewer you'll be nice

it's something so this is on behalf of

museum my museum detox family ok cool

girl come on sisters ways ok should

the UK have a black British Museum I

mean myself and a friend in the audience

we've we went two years ago and we

visited the one in Smithsonian mm-hmm

Lonnie's music way yes music and for me

it was an amazing experience very much

never thought it'd be very emotional I

want my family to go with me it was one

of those things that I just thought

everybody needs to go in their lifetime

it was that powerful and moving why not

yeah why not why not you know there

should be a museum for everybody and

there should be a museum for the world

too so it's just you know these things

are not contradictory at all and I say

why not

why not you know as long as museum doors

are open you know I want to be able to

feel you know cuz when we talk about

diversity I found out when I moved here

that there was a certain community you

know black British community that wanted

to be diverse from me and I didn't

understand what that meant and this was

the first this was the first time I was

called an American was in Britain cuz I

didn't you know we don't don't call

black people Americans in America no I'm

not joking

so you know when people start calling me

an American I was like whoo Oh me so

yeah I think so because I I think we

need to develop a voice the voice is

here but even more so and that's what

I'm talking about I really feel that the

black British voice

is being diminished very very much so

particularly the Caribbean voice so I'm

very interested and we do have me we do

have we do have the black cultural

archives we do have museums so which I

all urge you to go see this beautiful

place because it's just got some

incredible things and memories artifacts

but we we do need it now because we need

the voice to become present because it's

glass selection I was appalled

absolutely appalled by the lack of black

British voices are in the public sphere

when I came here 30 years ago those

voices were there there and they are

being diminished literally so if we can

if a museum takes a museum to do that

bring it on bring it on well I can't oh

no seriously I was in a meeting with and

and and and I was in the this meeting

the Rijksmuseum where i FeliCa had to

give a presentation and the dutch are

the most polite people in the world

because nobody can speak dutch except

Neil MacGregor we're just like what Neil

Smith Dutch too and you know you know

nobody speaks Dutch except the Dutch and

so they are but they're very polite and

everybody said now we must speak in

Dutch because I said okay and that's for

an hour and you were giving an

incredible address but I know what you

say it so but but you look for awesome

okay so would you what do you ask you


I've only met you this is the second

time we meet so I know and this is an

agressor leave it right here this woman

chased me out of the museum and helped

me and helped me get back to my hotel

and steered me away from the fashion

street because if I'd seen that I've

been I try yes that was my pleasure

yes well you were just talking about

voices which voices are heard or not I

was just saying that I would like

museums to be less object driven

I myself am very much narrative-driven

and you are playwrights so what do you

think that our new narrative should be

like in our new museums beards

african-american African British museums

or did that Rijksmuseum what are the new

narratives that we should be working on

thank you well as a playwright this is a

narrative space for me this is this is a

musical space for me as well now I know

that there are objects here but these

objects are narrative for me all the

time now what I'm what you might what

I'm taking is how do you make this

conscious how do you make how do you

raise this up but of course what is

happening to us when we come to a museum

because the first time I came to

Amsterdam on the hippie trail okay that

was a wild time and and I saw that I saw

the Night Watch which blew me away

because you only see illustrations of

the Night Watch have you ever seen this

piece this painting is coming off the

canvas at you it's coming like this and

I think and I believe that we all

experience objects in the museum as

movable and mutable we are educated out

of thinking like that there's nothing in

a museum that's static there's nothing

in a museum that doesn't move there's

nothing in a museum that doesn't change

there's nothing in a museum they're not

statues they're us so for me it's just a

question of how do I make that narrative

conscious for other people outside

because when I walk into this museum

when I walk in the Natural History

Museum when I walk in the rock museum

it's buzzing it's talking it's singing

it's hollering it's screaming there's

all of these kinds of things and maybe

we need in a way to get more artists

inside of museums to make that conscious

because it is happening anyway we are

just not we're educate out thinking that

it's not happening little kids will tell

you is happening

looky a little kid I'll tell you all the

time somebody's talking in here what's

going on and and we need to keep that

kind of thing make that thing conscious

now we really do so we can beat

tick-tock cuz tick-tock is the enemy now

so you know so we can we can do that

see you know the thing that's a killer

is to be beautiful and have brains and

this is like right here okay so I'm

telling you okay question time okay well

I'm gonna take three questions at a time

and because so for the purpose of time

and and the mics were coming to you okay

so I'm going here I'm a part of Museum

detoxifies and I work at the National

Archives currently well I'm really

interested in I grew up in Jamaica and

when I when I am when I came over here I

was really struck by the lack of a sense

of humor about dealing with really

traumatic history so you know is that

mean so in in Jamaica you know a lot of

this stuff this really violent history

is talked about with humor in it humor

is kind of acknowledged as a survival

tool it's a women diet and yeah great

yes the kind of the trauma but also kind

of creates these moments of deep

intimacy you'll see in in music you'll

see in films you'll see in plays a lot

more I wonder because I missed that

because sometimes dealing with the sort

of history if you don't have any sense

of humor in it it's just harrowing and

it's hard to push through and keep going

when you're dealing with just hiring

histories well maybe you know I came to

make you not laugh I don't know you know

well this is my question my question is

do you think that there is space for

humor to exist when the space is

predominantly white can humor only exist

when there's safety in it there's the

intimacy of this very entrance is the

understanding that you're not alone and

that humor is sort of the way

that you reach out and you say to

someone I see you that's very good

together that's very interesting

thank you another question that's very


another observation question yes yes yes

there is a mic coming for you women hang

on okay okay you got a do it should I

speak is it yes okay my name is Winston

pinic and I'm also a playwright yeah and

my Oh winsome I'm also a playwright okay

with you just want a couple of wards

okay right go on sister all right right

I'm very interested in the education of

young people and when you look at the

curriculum say the GCSE curriculum there

is of course no black history there

there is no black literature I just

wonder how we give young people the

access to this history and when we do

that how we sort of protect them because

I read somewhere that when I'd heard

that when young black people hear about

or learn this history sometimes it

drives them into despair yes they have

this sense that there is they have no

future so I wonder so there are two

questions really how we allow young

people to learn about themselves because

it's sometimes obvious that often they

don't know their history and how we give

them something that makes that valuable

and allows them to have a sense of

agency and hope listen because she won't

say I'm gonna say it that's when some

Pennock who is arguably I'm not gonna

argue about it she is the greatest

playwright of color in this country and

she has held this position as far as I'm

concerned for a long long beautiful time

and great inspiration to me

I really had to you honey that's lovely

thank you a great chronicler of the

black British experience you must read

her work she is literally a genius so

listen to this okay see I'm American so

I talk like this but I'm not lying

okay one more question then we'll deal

with these three beautiful questions one

more sound like Donald Trump he always

says beautiful yes hate him okay hello

hello oh there's a mic I'm sorry sir my

name is DJ I just wanted to make

reference to something I know you was

with a colleague of mine a friend of

mine he was our conference that's all it

oh sorry yes was at a conference in

Liverpool a few months ago and when she

described the conference to me to me it

was wild poor lack of about with a bit

of term in other words she was talking

about how most of the academics there

were white predominantly the academics

were from the US and she is just talking

about a lot of the academics who were

white hadn't read key work around other

black academics in their field and on

top of that she told me that the whole

thing concluded on a Sunday in something

which was a plantation house pretty much

where she saw a photo of which was in

save African and the rest of the people

in the picture were white and it kind of

brought up the insensitivity and how

much black academics are not valued then

it brought to me as a person I was born

in this country of Eastern Caribbean

heritage I think about how many black

people want to be in academia as

historians that I've met personally but

they're not there and I wanted to ask

you how do we encourage people and make

people who are from Britain or

interested in the Caribbean or Africa

that were born in this country to be

academics in this country in the history

field and I think it's very important

because even as me I'm not a historian

I'm a primary school teacher but I'm

very interested in my history you know

but you are okay I'm very interested in

my history and I have a big passion for

it and I see other people that have a

passion for it and want to be academics

but they just put off by what other

academics have told them so I want to

know how can we encourage black people

born in this country or race honest

college because I was born his country

to be academics in this country and

brother you reminded me

something I've seen a survey where the

subject that that University black

British University students going in to

university history is the one they don't

want to take but this to do it that's

the problem that's why I'm saying I'm

saying I'm reiterating what she was

saying they don't want to take the

subject and the reason I want to take so

you don't hear about the Empire yes one

more person yes yes

and then we then we then you all can

respond to whatever you want hello yes

hi I'm Rachel I'm over here

oh we unique she needs a mic down here

to my question I guess is kind of

directed to dr smothers and it's kind

of around the slavery exhibition that

you're working on and it's just I just

kind of wanted to find out a bit more

about how your position here in terms of

are you positioning as black history or

you position it more as like Dutch

natural here national history or is it

like European history and things like

that because I kind of struggle with the

idea of slavery being black history

because I think the idea of black

history and slavery are kind of

synonymous and I think that's a bit

unfair and I think that is kind of

damaging to especially people like me

who grew up in the UK the only black in

quotes history we learned was about

slavery I found that very unfair very

damaging especially as someone who was

only black girl in my class when it

comes to boys considered black history

it focused on slavery and very negative

and very violent things whereas other

people my class got to learn about

European history which was very nuanced

very glorious and very positive so I

just went to find out a bit more how

you're positioning that exhibition and

just wanting to know a bit more about

that okay thank you so we have thank you

very much that's excellent because

that's the point actually so we have a

question about where is the where does

wit which let's face it saved a lot for


just wit fair how do we teach now

winsome am i right how do we how do we

teach young people now and and what do

we do now the brother asked about you

know teaching history and

and how do we get more black academics

academics inside of universities in

particular and also in particular in

relation to the slavery Museum I'm sorry

the slavery exhibition but I think every

exhibition how do you position how do

you position an exhibition that has to

do with people of African descent in

particular how do you position it where

do you come from when you position it so

anything that you you all want to pick

up on I want to start with the question

about guessing academics yes I was at

that exhibition and that conference and

yes I learned about it in fact I ranted

so for such a long time on Twitter that

my my fingers were aching so I and from

that rant actually I decided to start a

list of black black people PhD students

or academics who are working on not just

slavery but race discrimination but also

Caribbean history African history and

that that list is coming and putting

things together

but it's coming out and there are quite

a few people who are working who have

worked on that who have left some of

them stopped their PhD some of them

didn't didn't find out what I didn't


we're not giving jobs even when they did

outstanding outstanding research and so

the situation is dire I'm very happy

when people say oh you're the first

female black woman professor in history

but it's incredibly isolating and in

many ways I know I shouldn't be so

ungrateful but I found it incredibly


I find it painful and I find that it had

said something about not only our world

of academia but he says something about

the world of historians so what I'm

trying to do in I can't do it on my own

is getting into such certain spaces

rural Historical Society

published a report that does not satisfy

everybody but it highlights something

the situation you're actually talking

about and how how and having a black

woman being vice president of rural

historic society has changed people's

not everybody but has changed people's

views on the fact that Britain is to hit

first I know it sounds incredible we all

know that but some don't so it's it's

small steps as far as academia is

concern I really really believe in

mentorship in man Turing the problem is

when you're only you you end up doing a

lot of the work exactly what I told you

at the beginning so that list for me is

very important because it means that

students academics or students between

themselves we can perhaps find our own

space because at the moment that space

is not being carved out for us so why

don't we create our own space in see

from my experience how how I got there

how do we occupy those spaces how do we

get in in terms of the teaching the

teaching is constants fight okay I was

saying I was saying earlier that Boris

Johnson has declared that he's going to

introduce the British of the history of

Western Empire back to the curriculum oh


fabulous problem how is it going to be

taught who again is going to teach it

and are we going back to its constant

fight so I believe that the public

people outside academia can do much much

more than we can actually you know so

the it's not just academia it's the

power is us us all collectively museums

all sort of places that we teach that

history that needs to continue because

otherwise it was just well we just died

I know it sounds too traumatic but yeah

thanks you and well just off the back of

what you've just said Oliver that it's

it's all about resilience isn't it at

the end of the day and like you said

it's finding our own spaces and things

that you know Museum detox for me we've

we've carved out our own our own niche

we are people of color that are in a lot

of different historical institutions but

come together to provide that support

for us that we're on you know we're on

our own most of the time but coming

together showing that support providing

mentorship for one another what's worth

emailing out jobs that come through

other networks signposting and a

nurturing of our self within to put

ourselves in positions to be on board to

be vice chairs of societies and things

like that so that's what we do and and

that's what you know perhaps on the

history side as well I'm gonna put a bit

of humor in this as well join the

natural history side of it as well so

I'm not a historian but I love history

and through my science I'm teasing out

historical stories that's all part and

parcel of it and for me I have as people

that know me I have fingers in many many

pies and so and know you know I work

with artists and I and I work with

historians and my role is a curator

within the museum I do not see my role

in there that that's where it begins and

ends I am part of society so I'm always

looking at the wider context and I do

believe that you know you've got to band

together with I talk about it it sounds

a bit like Star Wars but you know using

the external forces to affect the

internal that's vital and how are you

positioning or how are you you you can't

do it by yourself but what are you what

are you thinking in relation to story

well I think we're doing something

pretty exciting actually

obviously black history has been

marginalized in Dutch academic world and

in Dutch museums as well

and now there's a group of people in the

Netherlands that know so little about

colonial history that the debate is very

much polarizing between people who feel

that it's not part of their history so

we should shut up about it

and people who come from the Caribbean

for example let's say it is part of our

history so we say that it should be part

of what she show in museums so for years

now whenever slavery was part of an

exhibition it was only during a

commemorative year in 2003 or 2013

that's the moment where we celebrate the

abolition of slavery but that frames it

in a certain way and actually it

happened kind of by accident but I'm

really happy about it this year is not a

commemorative year and this is the first

time that the National Museum is doing

slavery exhibition which is even before

we started the point is already made

that this is Dutch national history and

what we're doing we're trying to make a

very personal exhibition so it won't be

about the starting till the end it won't

be trying to talk about all those a huge

amount of people that were translated

and transported it will focus on ten

people only ten people that live during

that era that had very different

positions within that colonial system

and we hope that this way the visitor

can can replace himself in those shoes

put yourself in the shoes of the people

who lived in who had to deal with all

those different circumstances who were

living as part of the elite in the

Netherlands who were a Dutch poor Dutch

Baker in the Netherlands or who were

enslaved and living in plantations or

put to the choice of whether you were

daring enough to flee or not and in that

way I'm hoping that people will both see

the personal stories and then the


and all the it's emotions that are part

of that but also that they see that the

the universal relevance of this that

they hear about the story of a maroon

woman for example and that they can put

themselves in her shoes because they're

our mother as well just because of other

things then only the surface only what

you look like and I hope that people get

to see that what happened in what the

enslaved went through that actually is

relevant for all of us on everywhere in

the world to learn about that and learn

from that so I'm hoping that after this

year all of the Netherlands will think

it's Dutch national history as well not

just Caribbean didn't happen outside it

happened in Europe as well Thank You

velika can I can I just say before we

wrap that and just two questions I used

to be a student a very ignorant student

of the great Yoruba Pantheon which

really fascinated me still does and of

course we know that one of the deities

is a led by the trickster Alette became

with us and I think sometimes we do lose

our sense of humor sense of playfulness

our sense of change I think and I feel

that those of us who descended from the

enslaved survived because we were

mutable we knew how to change we knew

how the what dancing and smiling was

about we knew what was behind that we

knew where the struggle was and we knew

what the fight was because the deities

came with us and they're still here and

they're still playing their tricks and

they're still protecting us and and I'm

saying that's necessarily any religious

sense but to talk about it in a

multi-dimensional sense as one of the

things that we came with on those ships

and the second question I'd like to have

to address when soms as a teacher I used

to be teaching blintz it was a great

teacher I think always and I'm not

working with young people now but I

think that we must give young people

respect and we must imbibe respect I

mean let them speak and by letting them

speak I mean letting them say what they

have to say and then we learn their

language and then we talk back to them

not necessarily in their language they

don't expect us to do that but we talk

to them back in understanding what they

are saying to us they are saying to us

the world that they see and we must

listen to them we must hear them we must

listen to them because they are the

future they are shaping the future and

we if we are teachers if we are lovers

of children and our children we must

find their language and we must defend

them at every step of the way and I want

to say to all of you you're very polite

you didn't ask me why I have OBE after

my name you didn't ask me that is that

in that is that English or what no you

didn't ask me why don't you ask me okay

Barney should I do the voice no how dare

you haven't received how they why did

you accept that would be couldn't you

just mop turn it down okay this gives me

a chance okay first of all I never put

it after my name and I think it's not

because I'm ashamed of it I never I

never I never do my father was here

he turned 20 years old the day after

d-day he grew up in the rural

Mississippi during the Depression so you

know I'll have to tell you that story

and he also was in the United States

Army in which believe it or not men of

African descent were not routinely armed

in a war zone okay so he came here and

he worked to help build up the resources

of this country he finally got a gun in

the our den at the last German offensive

the Battle of the Bulge I was way in to

the military when

General Patton finally said I'm giving

these black men guns okay do you mind so

my dad had a great love of this country

because he learned he saw black and I

know I'm not trying to be romantic but

he saw black men and black service

people from the Caribbean in particular

walk into pubs and walk into the pub and

not have to wait for some you know white

person to say you're not welcome in here

get out they went in there and one of

them told my father or we're not

Americans okay we don't know what you do

alright we're here to fight for fight

for the country so that really in noble

really made him feel a very strong

attract attention to this he loved this

museum as well because we we read about

it in the Encyclopedia Britannica that

he that he got from door to door and I

took the medal for him because nobody

gave him a medal for nothing and so I

think okay the Queen's gonna give me a

medal I'm giving it to him unfortunately

he died before I got this medal so I

kept it and then my mother died three

years ago I my mother is was so chic she

really did me a favor in the clay and

the casket she actually had a gown there

was a color of the ribbon of the OBE

medal so I pinned it on her and I'm just

thinking both of them were so ultra chic

they up there fighting over this medal

right now so there you are that's why I

took it and you didn't ask me why I

joined the board of this institution

neither why did you join the board of

the British Museum well first of all I

was really really shocked that Neil

MacGregor and it's because as a child

growing up on the south side of Chicago

sharing a bedroom with my three sisters

being in my little corner this museum

this the illustrations in the book was

where I could dream I was thinking of

the big

world I could see a lot of different

things so I kind of fell in love and I

thought right let me find a space to be

in here what can I do and and how can I

bring more people in to this museum

because after all y'all pay him for it

so you are thank you people laughing so

so I wanted to be a part of helping to

do that helping to be a part of that I

still feel that way and I want to say to

all of you today and seriously I know

for some of you this is the first time

you've been in here so I'll come the

second the second thing is I'm really

deeply grateful to be welcomed in this

country deeply grateful to all of you

for coming tonight

and thank you very much for being in

this audience tonight thank you very

much and before I go I want to thank the

Supremes really because you three

beautiful women


and listen don't don't I mean I know I

didn't get everybody's questions and I

know what usually happens is you walk

out to do and you can you know so please

I hope you feel that this is your house

and please come back again we're gonna

keep going we're going to keep prodding

we're going to keep opening doors we

could just gonna keep going and now

y'all as we see on the south side of

Chicago we playin out with Angela ki Joe

doing her rendition of Talking Heads

once in a lifetime thank you all very

very much


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