Stronger Together: Facing Retaliatory Tactics In Cultural Institutions

As we witnessed during the last couple of years, when staff organize seeking better practices and working conditions at institutions that have been unethical, colonial and/or toxic, we are often met with diverse patterns of control, abuse and retaliation. Boards and other decision makers can have unimaginable resources that most of us simply do not have access to: crisis management firms, expensive lawyers, PR firms, powerful friends, media influence, etc. The consequence of generations and generations of lack of accountability and transparency has left a sour taste in museum workers across the field; some leaving the field entirely, some too exhausted to even think of options, others stuck wanting to leave but unable to, others hoping that they can say the right thing for things to change for the better. This environment has particularly affected BIPOC and colleagues with disabilities, who are subjected to constant acts of discrimination. Staff in many museums have lived in fear of being honest about the working conditions that we are subjected to, taking a stand can sound terrifying, even inconceivable. This session will be an honest conversation about identifying patterns of narcissistic abuse in the museum sector, understanding how trauma makes us complicit in abusive systems and how we can protect each other from retaliatory practices. We will share examples of different types of tactics that decision makers have used to silence staff, control the narrative of the situation or even engage in union busting tactics. We will make time to build hope: this situation is not hopeless. It doesn't have to be. But that is up to us. This session is NOT under Chatham House Rules. I invite participants to attend as an act of courage and solidarity with those who have put themselves in danger to make the field better and more equitable for all of us. Track:Why Museums?


Unknown Speaker 03:37
Thank you Right. Hello everybody. I hope you're having a really beautiful day confirming you can hear me sounds like we're all set. Awesome. Okay, so I am hosting by myself right now. I am located in Detroit right now. Originally by IATA now this is a land of my colleagues and my friends in the Anishinabek community instead of a full land acknowledgement that I will traditionally do, I actually want to encourage you to do something and to think about a new way of thinking. When you're exploring, giving honor to the people that own the land where you're at. You say a few months back, I was putting together a podcast. I was trying to tell my story and and share everything that has been happened in the past year. Not gonna take too long into introducing you how the process went. But there was a point in which I thought that I could put together the best one acknowledgement that I could do in my expertise. I started doing all kinds of research and once I finalized what I felt was the best version after check in with some of my international colleagues that are here in Detroit. Somebody led me to an elder from the international community the elder actually called me out and I am here to tell you why there is never elder called me out this elder whose name I will keep for the time being fulfilling her which basically introduced me to the idea that it might be a better choice to approach the elders in your local community, to get to know the elders in your local community so that you can get to know the current needs of the indigenous communities that continue to exist. So that's my encouragement for you today. Get to know that people that occupied your land, get to know the history, but also, but also get to know the ways in which you can serve the existing and valuable indigenous communities that continue to exist today. Alright, let's dive into this retaliation. This is not going to be the easiest conversation to have and there is an important reason why this is not a Chatham House Rules session. And the reason is because I want to keep these conversations open, moving forward. I don't want to hide this anymore. We've been hiding for too long sometimes and that's led to some of the most dangerous situations for me as a human being. So I'm gonna use this session actually is going to be a little different than how I originally planned that. There is a union that was collaborating with me in this presentation, but they are really busy right now. I'm not gonna push them to put any extra work. So instead, we're gonna use this as an experimental session, I'm going to tell you the story of some of the palliation that we've been observing around our communities in the past year, but beyond to, but then we're gonna have a good time for a casual conversation. And I have a document that I'm going to share with everybody where you can start sharing,

Unknown Speaker 08:36
potentially what you've observed on your side of the world around retaliation in your institution. I'm a little bit nervous, because this is tricky, especially hosted by myself and not getting feedback. So hold on with me. Let's just go through this. Okay. Again, trigger trigger warning. MANY of you know my story, but if you don't know who I am, I went through a lot last year and I will mention some of the emotional abuse, depression and suicidal ideation that were present at some point. So what the heck happened in 2020? I guess is a question that MANY of us definitely have, even between trying to grasp the numerous elements that were around us. So I want to take this session for you to slow down and actually reflect for a few minutes with me, because things are happening just so so so fast, and that the speed is really not allowing us for careful reflection and actual processing. of the situations we've been put in.

Unknown Speaker 09:49
So as you are aware, yeah, institutions across the US have been investing all kinds of resources to tell the story of what's happening. You see, I've been having conversations with MANY of particularly women of color, and other allies who have been resigning, leading unions leading movements across the US. It did not start last year, as we've been saying over and over, but yes, things got exacerbated and things are actually really dangerous for some of us. I think that one important question, to understand and reflect on what has been happening in the past year and beyond. Is to check who is who are we protecting and who are we retaliating against. You see in the past year, MANY of you have been sharing the severe consequences of the exacerbation of our system. We saw anti union campaigns, we saw union busting campaigns so anything at the same time as we were seeing more and more unions come up and share new ways and give us new paths work that I celebrate to the day. This has not been without excruciating pain. Most of the unions have faced serious retaliation in the development of the Union, even in the campaigning or the process to get the union accepted. But also once the union has been accepted, most unions are still facing some forms of retaliation. So this is talking about organized labor. But what happens when some of us resign, and some actually did it alone. I had the honor to collaborate with several of my colleagues through the ISF action. It was really over 100 people that have done so much work for one another. Some didn't have. Benefit, they don't have the luxury to cover in an entire team surrounding us. But even me having a team I can tell you as I'm looking at this screen of who are we protecting in who we who we are retaliating against I was one of MANY that in the day ended up on the side of retaliation. And I think that this is one we need to think for a moment. Yes. Or museums are not protecting stuff. It is not a priority of museums to protect staff. If that was the case it would have been evident by now. Are they exceptions? I imagine that they are and so that there is a form of encouragement for one another if you're in the chat right now. I will encourage you to share some of the experiences where you've seen newseum sexually doing good and protecting stuff. I saw an incredible article that was shared by Microsoft yesterday or in the last couple of days around new ways of seeing the volunteer programs. These kinds of news are exciting and they are powerful but they come through a long way of work. institutions across the US regardless, Ali's still investing heavy amounts of money in protecting colonial practices and to avoid accountability at all costs. Once again, I take you a moment I ask you to take a moment for reflection. And I will continue to do this throughout this conversation. And so think about the practices that haven't actually been transformed in the last year. Because it sounds to me that some of those practices are not necessarily getting better. I feel like some of the leadership is getting better at explaining, making it sound like they're doing something about it without actually doing something about it. I have heard so MANY arguments that actually are really well written some not so much but some actually sound like some things are happening in the field. But I think that it is important that we look at where institutions are investing the money, where is this money going? And I think that we can also reflect on what this big investment has been all for

Unknown Speaker 14:13
has it been worth it? It's a big question. You say I resigned in June 20 Something of last year. And it was quite scary for me as a maybe for MANY of you to even think of the possibility of resigning. In the middle of a pandemic. What's it you so that you have a couple of extra elements? Let me tell you, I'm not going to go through my entire story. I'm not gonna tell you the background. There are a couple of videos floating in the internet that can share some of that, but I will tell you that I am an immigrant I do come from Mexico, and that I have been really afraid of taking action within the museum field within the context of my immigration status. I am a citizen of the United States. But you will be surprised that even as a citizen because I am an immigrant as well. At the back of my head, I still have thought that my legal status will be taken away from me. Because I don't know maybe there's gonna be a new precedent or a new law. It just doesn't feel super safe. I actually have good reasons to be cautious about what I do in this country. I have good response to prevent getting into too much trouble getting into dangerous situations. Because the reality is I don't feel like I fully fully I'm part of this country. I wish I did. But that's not how the country feels at the moment. And I'm not alone. There's a lot of people that feel this way. I share this because I very much understand isI as I mentioned in the Ignite talk that I shared at the beginning of this conference. I shared with you the honest opinion that I took pretty brutal hits in the process of feeling like if I take any action whatsoever, the danger is not just for me, it's for my family. The people who take the hit is not just me or other Latinas in the art world. colleagues in the field can be put in extreme situations in the process of liberation or in the process of making the world better for one another. So all of those fears have been present. And I want to make that very clear. And the reason why I want to make it very clear, is because of the type of retaliation that we've been observing so far. And when I tell you some of the types of retaliation that I personally faced, but again, at some point of this conversation once we open it up to questions I'm gonna keep most of the time actually for that so that we have a pretty open conversation. This is not meant to be a very structured presentation as much as I am here to tell you some of the stories, some of this realities, give you some encouragement, but also have the opportunity to work together and create a resource that potentially can bring some more light into how institutions are retaliating against us so far. So the news around the DA started popping up last year after my resignation. But I was not the first person who had been experiencing all kinds of traumatic experiences. Before I resigned they were they were already three lawsuits against the leadership of my cetaceans, all women by the way,

Unknown Speaker 18:06
and this is when we get to not acting actually causes harm. After I started organizing the story that I've shared a few times by now we got to a point where actually the DIA was using the argument that my colleagues were anonymous, to basically excuse the fact that we don't know the truth. We don't know the truth. And this might be something that you observe in your own institution. You see something institutions respond to us calling out the really dangerous and horrifying situations that we've observed in our field. I am seeing the crisis management firms. I'm seeing the PR firms create really good arguments to make it sound like it's really odd that we're hearing all this conversation. It is the times it is because we are in the context of the pandemic. Oh, it is because we're in crisis. We don't have as much money. We don't have as much support. So the story to the public has been sold completely different than what reality actually is. And I don't think that this has harmed only the public. I believe that this has also affected the way we respond to these types of things within institutions. I can tell you that not acting causes harm and I will give you an encouragement on how to solve it today. This is the consequence of not being able to do what I wish we would have been able to do. When I resigned. I warned that if nothing was to be done. My Institution was going to continue to harm the communities around me. And as you can see, that's exactly what happened. MANY of my communities around here were severely hurt when earlier this summer. The announcement of this mural that you see on this screen was announced. You won't see it as detailed but elements include Punisher skulls, Blue Line flags, and so that you understand what you are looking at. This is a Latina, looking down, apologizing on behalf of the force. The police force what an awesome mural to do. So as we continue to fight through the ISF action and continue to push the truth PR firms were very successful to change the narrative. You see how they were explaining all kinds of issues around in the realities of the situations of me and my colleagues. They were retelling the story. This is an example of how title on the news can be used. To excuse really dangerous situations within institutions. What I saw is media representing the facts in erroneous ways and it sounded pretty intentional. I started getting text messages from people that worked in the media. So you have an idea I was talking with people on Hyperallergic on New York Times on art news. I mean, you I was talking to a ton of people at the same time, because I was in charge by myself for protecting the anonymity of my colleagues of leading all media communications, even though I had really good advisors. Despite that, I have to recognize I didn't didn't have the types of resources that my institution had to fight my voice and to find my colleagues voices to find the truth. So instead of pursuing, or data pursuing or leads pursuing or intentions and are voices in or or really or ask for something better to happen. Then a law firm was hired, a PR firm was hired. And that's where you see the power of such tactics. Then the media announces that a law firm completely cleared somebody and then the rest of the media follows so this is where I recognize definitely my efforts have not been a match with this level of narcissistic abuse.

Unknown Speaker 22:41
Well, before I continue, I do want to thank I don't know if any of you are there, but if any person that supported the ISF action in the past year is part of this conversation, you don't have to say anything, you can remain anonymous, you know, but I do want to recognize you and honor you right now. And I want to thank you, because I know that he has not been easy. And I know that MANY of you have been exhausted since way before we started. So thank you again, I do want to recognize each one of you. There was a question that I asked in my Ignite talk, and as if we can move on in this conversation. And my answer was, I don't think we can that they are actually courageous. Widespread sacrifices needed. And the reason why is because safer efforts will eventually fail due to the level of retaliation. This is going to be another moment in which I asked you to think about retaliation in your own life. And this is one that hit me really hard the other day. And this even in this conferences like MC N, Museum, Computer Network or any other of the incredible conferences that we have the honor of going to they're always these sessions right? They quiet sessions they last minute organizations their sessions for the people of color, the sessions where you're not supposed to do it. And it made me think how widespread or acceptance has been to a world of retaliation, how we have fully submitted ourselves to it and we fail, that hopeless to be able to negotiate speak the truth organized the way we should. And we are completely afraid of doing that. To the extent that we're trying to move the conversation forward, understanding the type of retaliation but at some point, actually losing their hope that we can actually engage productively in these conversations publicly. It made me really sad for a while, and it made me feel like retaliation was the end of it. That really, institutions have full control of us. But I don't think so that anymore. I've been having so MANY conversations and I've been quite quiet as well. I've been away from social media for a while I've been away from engaging even in MANY professional development opportunities. I've taken pretty serious sacrifices in my career in the past year. But mainly it's been to reflect our survival maybe out of trying to find my place in the world. But I have been able to get to the other side and I have been able to find some of the help that I believe can give us some of the answers of how to address whatever the heck is going on in the field. And yeah, my encouragement is that is that you need to face your trauma because we are going to have to collaborate in this quite a bit. I say that with a lot of hope, actually.

Unknown Speaker 26:00
Sorry. Okay. So I prepare a document for us because I'm not going to pretend that I alone have full control of this conversation or that I alone have all the answers. I am going to go as far as saying too that this little presentation, improvised this in some ways because I had to change some of it in the last minute is my intent to tell you different ways in which I have been affected or feel has been affected you have been affected by retaliation and cultural institutions. So we're gonna make an exercise. And I'm about I'm about to share a document with you and I'm going to seek your support. We are going to start addressing questions if there's any, and I'm going to leave you the room for a couple of things. Number one, I'm going to share the document for you to add if you have faced in retaliation if you are aware of any tactics of retaliation. The document gonna share has even sections for you at different types examples, if you will. This is so that we can get more knowledgeable around ways in which we need to prepare for these types of things. Basically, my theory is that the more we get familiar with how these institutions operate, the more we're going to know how to respond. And I actually think that you're going to see patterns because they happen to respond in pretty similar ways. You see the entire union campaigns, you see their PR firms, the crisis management firms, you see that new idea teams, the new the AI person that was hired, and then not directly addressing what we're asking for all of these tactics actually sound pretty similar. So I'm hoping to find some of the patterns. Okay, I'm going to stop sharing my screen for a moment and I'm going to get a link to the document Okay.

Unknown Speaker 28:22
All right. I just shared a document in the chat. Everybody has a right to edit the right now please don't share it out for a moment. I've seen enough accidents happening because of that. You don't have to feel it immediately. But this is what I'm trying to do. What I'm trying to do is to collect how each one of you or if you have any examples of media control any examples or retaliation, any links to articles. It doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be in perfect order. You can find a space as you want. Well, what I would like to do is that throughout the next few minutes if there's any questions that you want to do to somebody that experienced full type of all kinds of retaliation in the past, actually almost couple of years because I said face retaliation way before the pandemic started. So if you have specific questions for me, please drop them in the chat. But in meanwhile, I open up this document. There's already one or two examples there. Feel free to add any of that and what I intend to do with that is clean it up once we collect as much as we can. And I'm gonna share it to the public so that we can start to see some of those patterns

Unknown Speaker 29:51
Okay, all right, my friends. Thank you very much. So if you want to add any of that, feel free to add that there and if you have any questions for me at this point, feel free to ask them. Other than that, I'm more than happy to stay here and keep on talking to each one of you. I see some my friends. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you for it to each one of you that has been super supportive in the past year. And I want to give some of the recommendations meanwhile, if you okay, I see. I'm reading SUSE Anderson, some months ago, you Twitter on Twitter on the importance of public signs of support, not the MCM or private messages that really stood out for me because I hadn't realized the importance of visibility in my actions. Thank you so much for that comment. And I will agree. I'd say that. I'll tell you what the complexities here. I absolutely love my colleagues and I totally understand why. There is hesitation of speaking up. I have faced the same trauma the same type of trauma and I have, I understand why there's silence. But I think it's also important to be aware of the consequences of that. And to be the person on the other end the receiver, it becomes trickier and trickier to I mean I don't want to say excuse but to be okay with people who love me to with people who maybe maybe even publicly say that they support public action and they will show up in Black Lives Matter marches, or they will have this really incredible quote on social media. around social justice. But then, as soon as that actually hit their personal life, their personal job, people's or public opinion on them, then the support stops right there. And there was actually a really interesting situation with one of them. Who actually came up to me a couple of months after everything had happened. On the news in the first wave of news after I resigned, and this person came up to me and said I have been completely anonymous. I haven't participated and I just wanted to say out loud, that I apologize. I don't know why I stay silent. While I see you suffering the way you have. And while people put you through situations that you've been put through. I know I need to work on why. And although some of you might think immediately well maybe she was looking for your validation, whatever. No, even if that was the case. This is a level of reflection that I haven't seen on a lot of people. So I'd say that if you can take a minute to even ask that question. Why am I'm not taking action if you are somebody who like me a few years back was terrified or just didn't know how to support. Maybe asking why can be helpful is the best way to help navigate to check with an individual about how they prefer support. I think that's a really good initiative to directly reach out to somebody and say I would love to support you, but I don't know how even to the extent of sharing your type. Like I fear that this can happen. Because you'll be surprised that has happened with me somebody that might have reached out to me and say I don't know what to do. I feel limited in this way and I've been able to work with this person and just bring some light into the fear. I do think that it's important to having to conscious to be mindful of the fact that it is not my job to make that person feel better. If that I took it as a job at the end of last year and you don't need to commit to suicidal ideation. Secondhand trauma is very, very real. Each of us needs to be aware of that. But at the end of the day, what what I was able to do westoe Explain some good realities, because sometimes when we feel so traumatized and so hopeless, we stop seeing paths of solutions.

Unknown Speaker 34:12
And wondering what was the first sign of retaliation that you experienced at DIA the first sign of retaliation happened really soon after I was hired. I came with full energy to apply basis and the practices which I learned in Mexico as humans and our practices. Everything looks so applicable to the museum world. I was able to advance really quickly. When I started doing an internship, once I was hired, something really funny happened. All the people respected my opinions. Suddenly there was a new director. And when I started giving my professional advice that did not align with the ideas that were pushed by the director, that was immediate. I, I was called by my boss and that was a first act of retaliation that I gave a pretty direct evaluation of a project and said if we don't do this, this is going to happen. I was talking about 1000s upon 1000s upon 1000s of dollars lost if we didn't change something in a project. The director straight up said that I should remove myself from pushing back against him anymore or against the person that he put in leadership. But probably one that was even worse that this was an accident and I warn you to be careful with this one. There are all these sites where you can rate your your work your workplace, and because I was starting to seek other possibilities for my labor, I did find a way to submit supposedly anonymously, when my position while working at the DIA was going to be like, long story short, that website somehow failed me in all of the ways they promised to be anonymous. And somehow the HR department got ahold of my review of the DIA. This was an important act of retaliation because I was told by my boss from it on behalf of the HR department that my Advancement at the institution was not going to look the same anymore. And that I had to change my review. What helped you open your eyes on this institutional harm? There is a sense of justice that I grew up with because I did grow up in a system that require a lot of strategizing to survive. And I think that since forever, I've had this urge to ask, Well, can I be better or how can we work around this? How can we collaborate? And I think it was when I noticed that we couldn't collaborate that my colleagues were actually placed to be almost like against one another. I think that this is a consequence of narcissistic abuse is that narcissistic abuse makes you protective of yourself completely. Because it tells you that if you don't act on behalf of yourself, retaliation will happen. So basically, we slowly get trained to work only on behalf of ourselves. Otherwise, we face retaliation. And I think that the more I failed that that I couldn't work with my colleagues that I couldn't organize that I couldn't share honest perspectives that's when it became very, very clear that this was a pretty toxic work environment, but I was not familiar with narcissistic abuse until about two years ago. Thank you for that question. Yeah, so yeah, narcissistic abuse is ongoing. And it's not going to stop anytime soon. So this tactics of retaliation, are all about keeping power are all about maintaining the status quo maintaining it's not a fear, to be honest. I think that Dr. Kelly Morgan mentioned that in a conversation we were part of over the summer that these people are very scared at this point, because I know that we know that they feel is changing is inevitable, inevitable. They feel the the world around us is moving pretty fast. So I do think that some of these people are pretty scared of losing power. And there are some structures that particularly white supremacy, white supremacy structures that I've been putting question directly outside of the museum field. In the museum field for the past 20 years, but people in power have been hesitating as much as as possible. And I don't want to generalize because I do know, and I do want to accept that they are museum leadership, people who have actually acted better in the past year, but I will lie to you if I said that. I have plenty of examples of that.

Unknown Speaker 39:11
Yes. I don't know if there's any other question before we close this presentation. Have you ever worked in a non toxic workplace in or outside of the field? I actually think that it is totally possible, but I haven't had I worked in a place of work better than this field, I'd say, but I still face some different type. of trauma. Another path that I almost took was that I almost became a preacher. I don't go to church anymore and total respect to all Christian colleagues out there. But I did live my faith a while back. And but I almost became a pastor and I did work in a summer camp and I was the director of Baraka summer camp for a while. And somehow that little part of the world during that summer, those summers failed really nice in some of those summers, but I would lie that to say that nothing hit or nothing bad happened, but this was mainly consequence of the state of the world and the US he was not necessarily fully representative of the work environment. I do think it's totally possible to work in a non toxic work environment, but I believe that some of us are starting those projects outside of what is expected. I just think that we are in a culture that prioritizes narcissism in MANY ways, and this is when you saw the Facebook situation. Just so you have an idea of what type of issues we're dealing with in the field. Little know that not MANY people know. The same law firm that is representing the whistleblower on their Facebook case, is the same whistleblower that defended the person that accused Donald Trump and that ended up impeaching him saying whistleblower organization is a sandwich of organization I worked with on behalf of my colleagues, as the same organization that I've reached out to whistleblower aids. So just so you know, the level of power that institutions have, see the outcome that the Facebook case have, see the outcomes and the situation in Ukraine have successfully My situation was able to shut down the same way through our PR campaign, just a little note I also assume that our result, that result also happen because so MANY people outside museums really don't care that much about museums, so I don't think you've got the same level of audience. Okay, so I don't see that MANY questions popping out at this point. I want to thank each of you for sharing an hour with me or 40 plus minutes with me in this reformatted session. I appreciate people that shared some of your suggestions for different types of retaliation. I appreciate people that listen to my story even though he was at work a casual retelling of it. If you have any questions around this path, if you have any questions about why you can do for one another, there are so MANY excellent resources already. I will suggest that you get closer to museums are not neutral museum workers fake initiatives. There's so MANY initiatives going around that are good paths to take action, public action. And I will really in the resource document that I shared last time and during my Ignite talk in case we can be helpful. I understand that trauma is pretty severe and horrifying and difficult to deal with but I can also tell you that you can successfully overcome it. Overcoming and the reason that I tell you that is because I believe that I have overcome my own depression and I believe that I see a path for museums now. So I hope for the rest of the museum field to be in that position as well. Anyways, thank you so much. I really appreciate this one of you and I'm about to open a new session. I'm going to take some of this points. We're going to be exploring in just a few minutes with my colleague Jeremy. We're gonna imagine what museums in 3021 will be like, but thank you so much each one of you thank you for for being part of this conversation and if you need anything do reach out you know how to find me. Thank you.