Institutional Racism: Why LACMA is Losing My Family

Over the past 20 years, in some capacity, I’ve been an employee, visitor or member of LACMA. After my last visit, it may all end. The way I’m treated every single time I visit is so annoying that it ruins my entire trip. It doesn’t matter if I’m alone or with my kids; there will be at least one security guard who approaches me while I’m just looking at a piece and acts like I’ve never been to a museum before.

LACMA's lip service

LACMA’s lip service

On the left are 2 DMs I received from LACMA over this ongoing issue. As you can see, the first was sent nearly five years ago in 2010. The 2nd one was from March of 2014.  The DM responses are rare. If there is any response at all on Twitter, they usually just apologize. Nothing has every gotten fixed. We visit LACMA at least 6 times a year (usually more often) and for the past SIX years, someone has decided to approach me to yell at me, tell me I can’t do something I wasn’t doing or to alert me to basic rules.

Usually, the perpetrator is a Filipina. Which is what made Sunday’s issue more annoying. The same old Filipina lady who harasses me used a black woman in her stead. I know LACMA said they’d talk to head of security, but I didn’t think harassment by proxy was going to be the go to policy. Anyway, we were inside the Haunted Screens exhibit for almost a minute before it started. At the entrance is an aisle with photos and drawings on both sides. The aisle is about 5 – 6  feet wide, if that. The photos are mounted on the walls, but also on a sloped counter that reaches about to my hip. My children and I were just walking, looking at the images when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the Filipina security guard pulled a black lady guard over, whispered to her while pointing at me and then walked around the corner.

We were just toward the end, when the black woman approached us and told us that we had to be 2′ from the artwork. I was standing one foot away with my arms folded and had bent slightly at the waist to see counter-mounted item because of the glare on the glass. Yes…all of this artwork was behind glass.  If I stood 2′ away, I’d be in the middle of the aisle. Or rather, the three of us would be in the middle of the aisle. My daughter looked at the woman, then looked down and said, “That’s ridiculous! We can’t see 2′ feet away.” I started laughing and turned toward the guard, “Oh, she got you to say that, huh? Two feet away is utterly absurd.” She started telling me that that’s the rules. Okay, okay. I then turned around to see a white lady, leaning on the counter-mounted artwork, while tapping a finger on the wall-mounted artwork.” The Filipina guard was in the doorway and saw her, but she didn’t say a word. The black woman who approached us didn’t say a word. The man at the other end also didn’t say a word.

I laughed, then murmured to my daughter, “Well, I guess we’re going to be followed all around the exhibit!” and, of course, we were.

On the other side, the artwork was mounted on columns set 4 feet apart. The floor on the outer edges slopes up. Both the black lady and the Filipina followed us. My daughter and I started laughing again when we saw how close the columns were to each other. “Two feet!” We looked at more photos and talked about this, while being followed. A different white woman was leaning against one of the columns. On the other side and Asian couple were also leaning against the columns. At this point, there were four security guards in the area and no one said anything to these people blatantly breaking that 2-foot rule.

For what it’s worth, as we left the exhibit, there was a completely different white woman leaning on the counter-mounted artwork, finger mere millimeters from the wall-mounted artwork and the 2 security guards just looked on. I said, “Oh, I guess 2 feet doesn’t count for her.” and they squirmed.

Last Summer at LACMA

Last Spring at LACMA

The second of the 2 DMs reference the above. The time before harassment gets shorter and shorter. It used to take an hour when the kids were babies. This was one of those rare days where I wasn’t the only black mom with kids in the museum. This was 3 different black women experiencing the same thing. We actually cut our visit short because of this. With the last mom (1st post), we were in the lobby of the Japanese Pavilion and talked about it. She said she hadn’t been to LACMA in years because of it. I know other black women who only go when family is in town or in groups for the same reason.

Back when I had a LACMA membership, there was the time when I had my umbrella in case it rained and the security guard wouldn’t let me & my daughter into the Hammer building with it. She told me I had to leave it by the door. That it was a “possible weapon”. The umbrella holder was empty and all the people inside had umbrellas in their hands or on their arms. I went back outside and gave the umbrella to my husband…the white guy. Then me & my girl went back to the building where the Filipina security guard made sure we had our tickets, even though we had stickers on our shirts. Then I stood off to the side to see what would happen when the guy I’m married to walked in. I had his ticket, he had an umbrella. She didn’t say a single word to him.

My kids have been visiting museums all over LA County since they were babies. They know how I expect them to act. They know the rules of the museum. They know how to check to see if photos are allowed in an exhibit. They know not to touch anything that’s not supposed to be touched. They aren’t loud and they don’t run around because they know I hate kids who do that in public spaces the most. So, imagine my surprise when we’re in the contemporary art section–this was in 2012–and my son stepped inside the line on the floor running around the perimeter of the room. I simply said his name and asked, “Where are we supposed to step?” It was handled in 5 seconds and he remained at my side or behind me for the next 10 minutes. Meanwhile, 20′ away, these 2 white women  and their 7 kids were being obnoxiously loud. I mean, so loud everyone was staring at them. Their kids were running all around the room, shouting and one child had climbed up on the artwork. My kids looked on mortified. (FWIW, this is fairly typical behavior of white families in LA museums.) Suddenly, a little lady in a blazer approached me, “Please lower your voice and keep your kids away from the artwork.” I looked at her like she lost her damn mind. I hadn’t even spoken in 10 minutes which is a major feat for me. I told her to go talk to those heathen kids and their owners. She said, “I’m talking to you. Or do you need to be escorted out?” Man…If my kids hadn’t been with me, I would’ve cussed her out right then and there.

Most of the harassment is just about pictures. I’m a photographer, so I have my camera with me. It’s usually on my shoulder with the lens cap on. I generally don’t like to take pictures in museums and if I do, it’s usually of a small section of a painting.  So, when I walk in a room and the first thing a LACMA security guard says to me is “No pictures.” I often reply, “Yeah. I. Can. Read.” and point to the lens cap on the camera. Then I get followed while hearing camera clicks. “You can’t take pictures in here ma’am.” I said, “Then tell them!” and jerked my thumb toward the people behind me. You know…the people with the cameras and giant lenses. The ones fucking taking pictures.

My daughter (11) asked, “Why do we even come here when they bother us every single time?” At this point, I told my kids that I was probably never going to be the one to take them to LACMA. They’ll have to rely on their father, friends or school. I absolutely refuse to have to put up with this crap every time, especially from the same 3 or 4 women.