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Are black people intimidated by museums?

Learning: museums are the source of so much historical information

I AM an avid fan of any museum, gallery or bookshop and I am always thrilled when there is a new exhibition.

As an arts and entertainment writer, I might be more inclined than the average person to attend new showcases because it falls under my daily remit. But when you visit these institutions as often as I do, you notice the lack of black patrons.

There are over 250 museums in London alone, yet black people are 39 per cent less likely to visit a museum or gallery and go to a library than any other race in the UK, and the numbers are sadly decreasing. A recent report, published by the National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport also found that black people are 60 per cent less likely to visit a heritage site in England.

The general reflection put forward by the report is that there is not enough social inclusion and black people feel under-represented when it comes to such institutions. But the last time I checked, reading a book or appreciating art does not depend on the colour of your skin.

There are many dedicated black museums and galleries in the UK; some of these are small, community-focused establishments, offering a wealth of knowledge and history by black people for black people. So why are we not using and supporting them?

Even the big institutions, like the Victoria and Albert Museum or the British Museum can offer a vast hoard of African and Caribbean artifacts. The British Museum’s African gallery houses over 200,000 objects from across the continent; old relics and new art works that offer a unique insight into our culture. But very often, it seems that our culture does not care.

I have heard the argument from so many young black people who are angry that the British Empire built their fortune off their colonies; they talk about the crown jewels and “stuff” that they “want back.” But they have never been to a museum – and if you’ve never been, how do you know the “stuff” is there?

People who pretend to boycott libraries or museums because of an ill-educated stance are at best lazy and, at worse, scared of the organisations. The overall effect is self-alienation that spreads to the younger generation and breeds more ignorance.

We are incredibly lucky to have access to these free services that give us an unprecedented connection to our history, and our future creativity. We must not let fear or lack of knowledge stand in the way.

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